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Review: Haunted house clunker 'The Turning' low on thrills and competence

Courtesy of Universal Pictures


Based upon Henry James’ classic novella “The Turn of the Screw” - which has been Frankensteined in many different adaptations since it was written in the 1800s - will be lucky to survive it’s latest cinematic blunder. Directed by Floria Sigismondi (“The Runaways”) “The Turning” is another notch on the belt of lame PG13 thrillers manufactured on a budget of five dollars and having an ending with more questions than answers.

Lacking any type of emotional urgency or scary-set pieces (save for an old Victorian mansion which is the star of the movie) screenwriters Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes (whose horror resume includes 2005’s “House of Wax” and 2013’s “The Conjuring”) have tried to update “Turn of the Screw” to the early 1990s for the sole reason of incorporating an ill-fitting hard rock soundtrack and have the headline of Kurt Cobain’s suicide hanging in the rear-view.

The story-line more or less remains the same and poor Mackenzie Davis (“Terminator: Dark Fate”) is tasked with carrying this debacle. Davis plays Kate who is hired as a nanny for two orphaned children living in an isolated country estate along with an elderly housekeeper. Much to the dismay of her roommate Rose (Kim Aldis in a role that serves little to no purpose as she’s hardly seen) - Kate soon discovers the two privileged children are a handful. Seven-year-old Flora (Brooklyn Prince, “The Florida Project”) and her 15-year-old brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard, likely included to get his “Stranger Things” followers into theaters) are clearly in distress and in need of some therapy. Which makes sense considering their parents were tragically killed and they have zero connection to the outside world.

These are the type of kiddos whose idea of a practical joke is throwing a lifelike doll into a pool to make Kate think one of them has drowned. But soon - as haunted house logic dictates - the house begins talking, Kate starts having dreams and visions of her predecessor Miss Jessel (Denna Jessel) and the untimely death she and horse-riding instructor Peter Quint suffered. Enter the predictable and lousy jump scares that makes you question Kate’s own sanity as she sticks around far longer than any human with a brain would (after a game of flashlight hide and seek goes horribly wrong, I would have booked a plane to Mexico).

Alas, any scares that do manage to pop up prove unintentionally hilarious: a horseback riding stint through a corn maze anyone? Or how about the time Kate finds herself being attacked (tickled?) by a severed hand that looks like it just walked off the set of “The Addams Family.” Sigismondi does have a solid directorial background and “The Turning” tries to throw in an obligatory psychological subplot around Kate’s mother. Key word there is “tries.” Not only doesn’t it work, it’s a confusing inclusion that tries to cater the finale in such a way that’ll leave audiences feeling duped. Just once, can one of these things end on a lighter note? Davis also deserves a medal for having to scream “You Knew!” at least a dozen times within a two minute time-frame.

Less compelling are Wolfhard and Prince who are just going through the motions to cash an easy paycheck. Though Wolfhard tries the hardest to show his range, which includes everything from emo-rocker to distressed teen, and Prince tries to duplicate the same intensity from “The Florida Project,” it isn’t enough to keep “The Turning” from sinking in its own foolish grave.

Grade: D-

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