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A Loose Screw

Patrick Redmond/Universal Pictures

The Turning (2020)

It’s difficult to imagine “The Turning,” Universal Pictures’s newest throwaway in the January trash heap following the dismally reviewed “Cats” and “Dolittle,” being worse than those two debacles. Indeed, music video auteur Floria Sigismondi’s first film since indie gem “The Runaways” a decade ago could pass as respectable if not for its utterly impenetrable final minutes.

To make sense of that bonkers ending, one must circle back to what the film credits as its source, Henry James’s “The Turn of the Screw.” Screenwriters Carey W. Hayes and Chad Hayes have taken such extensive liberties that the film’s plot bears little resemblance to the novel. Without spoiling anything, casting doubt on the sanity of the protagonist, Mackenzie Davis’s Kate the governess, has here become an M. Night Shyamalan twist ending.

Discrepancies between the film and the source material point to the screenwriters having adapted the CliffsNotes version of James’s novel instead and interspersed that with atmospheric set pieces and cheap-shot jump scares. If their work wasn’t so transparently vacuous, there would have been much to mine from this female-gaze update, especially in the way that women are doubted and often gaslit to the point that even they themselves start to question their sanity.


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