The Stack Up: ‘The Turning’

How does the film stack up to the novel?

The children’s demeanors differ between the book and the film adaptation of ‘The Turning.’

Few works of fiction have arisen such fear and dread within me as Henry James’ 1898 novel, “The Turn of the Screw,” and this year’s “The Turning” directed by Floria Sigismondi fails miserably. In both stories, a governess and the children she watches are haunted relentlessly by evil forces at a rich estate.

The book

The title “The Turn of the Screw” is a term for the audience’s interest being peaked at the terror of a story. It focuses on an account from an unnamed governess of her work in watching two sweet innocent children- Fiona and Miles- at an estate.

They are haunted by two ghosts: the former governess, Ms. Jessel, and the fiendish groundskeeper, Peter Quint. Both pursue the governess relentlessly, saying nothing but slowly luring the children away from her.

There is plenty of mystery within this story, especially dealing with Miles, who acts strange but is very outgoing. He has been expelled from his school for unexplained reasons. Part of the story’s charm is James’ decisions to let the mysteries remain mysteries.

The governess soon discovers that only she and the children can see the ghosts and soon her sanity is questioned, even by herself.

In another plus, the book is written in an English slang, which sounds very polite. In one scene, the governess realizes the housekeeper is hiding something from her and exclaims, “You do know you dear thing.” See what I mean?

The story is written so well, and so beautifully that the reader feels as helpless as the governess. Soon, the reader doubts her sanity, too. However, she can only do so much to help protect the children, and she must face true darkness and inevitably tragedy.

Having read this as a kid, I found myself relating to Miles and was saddened by the story’s conclusion.

Is this story mystery or horror? Only the reader can truly decide in the end.

The film

“The Turning” was my stomach for 94 minutes of watching this film. This is what happens when filmmakers don’t know how good the source material is and make a travesty for an adaption. On the plus side, lead actress Mackenzie Davis carries this film with her believable and sympathetic performance as the governess and I hope her career takes a turn for the better (see what I did there?).

I haven’t regretted going to the theaters so much since “The Last Jedi.”

The story follows the governess named Kate and how she works to tutor the children. It is here that she is met with the cold unfeeling housekeeper, the charming little girl Flora and the complete monster of a brat Miles.

Here is where things take a, well, turn for the worse. Scene after scene follows Kate being attacked by an evil force and then waking up, being attacked by another force and waking up again. She will look out the window and see something terrible happen, rush outside and then be attacked by it.

The entire movie is this way. This film is so infuriating. I only remained in the theater because I hoped the ending was the same as the book, but was again disappointed.

The ending made the film so much worse. In the climax, Kate rescues the children from Quint but wait- there is a twist- and another twist within it.

The victor

The biggest fault of the film for me is in making the kids relentlessly vicious and creepy. The book made them good-natured so that you feared for their safety instead of being afraid of them, which is what makes the book so intriguing and the film so cliché.

“What a trainwreck,” were my exact words as I left the theater. On my drive home I heard “Beds Are Burning” by Midnight Oil on the radio. The song asked how we as people could be happy when the world keeps “turning” for the worse– go figure.

The book is so much better. I hope audiences turn to the book for real scares.

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