The world needs another movie about a woman going to a haunted house and nothing happening like it needs another hole in its ozone layer, but here’s one more from the writers of The Conjuring.
This adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw has two mysteries at its core: why is Steven Spielberg producing this mess, and how are we still expected to take seriously horror movies with -ing suffixes? You might as well call it The Embarrassing. We open on a TV report of Kurt Cobain’s death so we know it’s the ’90s, even though the period has no relevance and the soundtrack comprises original songs by current artists. So far so screwed.
The nanny (Terminator: Dark Fate‘s Mackenzie Davis) then arrives at the aforementioned hell house to take care of two orphans (The Florida Project‘s Brooklynn Prince and It‘s Finn Wolfhard), the boy described in the book as gentle and beautiful but depicted here as a menace. A key mystery in the novella is why such a good kid would be expelled from school; here the question is what acting school would accept him in the first place.
A four-hander such as this requires strong characters, but they all seem to be in different films; Wolfhard is channelling We Need to Talk About Kevin, while Barbara Marten (who plays the housekeeper) appears to have wandered in from the black-and-white 1961 version The Innocents. All of James’ unsettling ambiguity is replaced with the usual concessions to genre, including tedious jump scares, predictable spooky paintings and incongruous scary mannequins.
In fact the only surprise is that the credits roll when they do, when the film hasn’t even ended. At least they draw a close to this chill-free taming of The Screw, a failed attempt by DreamWorks to replicate the success of The Conjuring franchise that would have Henry James The Turning in his grave.