From its multitude of plot points constantly leading viewers astray to the never-ending feeling that yet another jump scare is about to occur, “The Turning” was a bumpy ride from the start. Spoilers ahead.
Based on its previews, viewers may have assumed that the story would revolve around a young girl, her brother and the creepy, possibly demonic happenings that would ensue, specifically to the girl. It’s possible that the girl may become possessed and change from an innocent child to a horrific monster – hence “The Turning.”
However, this assumption about the film could not be farther off.
Set in a dreary, unnamed city in Maine in the 90s, the film centers on its protagonist, Kate, who is an immaculately dressed school teacher living with her bubbly roommate. She has received a job to be a live-in governess for a little orphan girl, and she says her reason for taking the position is so that she can “really make a difference.”
Before leaving for her new job, Kate visits her mother, who is painting frantically in the empty swimming pool of a mental facility. It is obvious that her mother is very dazed and does not fully understand what her daughter is telling her, and she hands over the painting to her daughter, which is a portrait of Kate.
Upon her arrival at the incredibly ominous and daunting estate, Kate soon realizes that she has signed on for much more than she expected.
There is a housekeeper, Mrs. Groves, who lives with the orphans, Flora and Miles. She is exceptionally disturbing, both due to her appearance and the strange things she says, such as referring to the children as “thoroughbreds.”
While Kate initially believed to only be caring for Flora, her brother Miles soon makes his entrance upon being expelled from his boarding school … for choking another student.
Although Flora is at times strange, she is essentially a very normal child. Miles, on the other hand, brings the viewer to an increasingly uncomfortable state with his very presence.
The subject of the orphans’ previous governess, Miss Jessel, is constantly looming over the plot in an almost annoying and repetitive way. It is suggested by Mrs. Groves that she and the former groundskeeper of the estate, Quint, had an ongoing affair that did not end well, causing her to take her leave.
The ghost/memory of Miss Jessel haunts Kate during her time at the house, who sees her face reflected in what seems like every mirror she looks into.
It is also revealed that the aforementioned groundskeeper, Quint, was one of Miles’s role models and he met an untimely death after Miss Jessel’s departure from the estate.
In an ongoing bit, Miles terrorizes Kate by watching her sleep, making disturbing sexual suggestions and causing her to feel as though she is going crazy and seeing things.
Throughout the rest of the film, an innumerable amount of plot points is thrown at the viewer. Quint is shown to be a sexual abuser, Mrs. Groves constantly doubts Kate’s competency and the characters seem to keep riding the horses on the property – perhaps a reference to the “thoroughbreds” comment by Mrs. Groves.
This film is really about Kate’s descent into madness, though.
“The Turning” pulls a “Breaking Dawn: Part 2” about three times in the duration of the movie. The viewer thinks that Kate has escaped with the children, only to be shown that it was a hallucination. Then, Kate thinks she is being chased by the ghost of Quint, only to realize she was running from nothing.
The final plot twist given is that Kate actually has been losing her mind, and she has been the one “turning” – just as Miles told her. It is suggested that she suffers from the same mental illness that her mother has, and the other characters say that in actuality it was Kate terrorizing the children and Mrs. Groves rather than the other way around.
Ending in what is yet another hallucination of Kate’s, she is in the empty swimming pool and looks into her mother’s face – which is never shown, but it may be assumed it was her own face that she was looking into.
All in all, “The Turning” was difficult to follow and the viewers probably got tired of seeing Miss Jessel’s ghost appear in what seemed like every scene.
Even though the film’s point was to show Kate’s eventual loss of sanity, they probably could have done a much better job of it. As soon as the viewer thinks they have things figured out, another plot twist is thrown at them.
While plot twists and jump scares are usually enjoyable and exciting, “The Turning” seemed almost sloppy in its constant repetition.