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Revisiting The Turning, 2020's Turn of the Screw Adaptation, Now Streaming on Peacock

Let's take a look back at The Turning, an underseen horror film based on a classic ghost story.

By Matthew Jackson
The Turning Mackenzie Davis Finn Wolfhard

The Turn of the Screw, Henry James' classic ghost story set at an English manor house, is one of the most adapted horror tales of all time, arriving in many forms including, most recently, the Netflix miniseries The Haunting of Bly Manor. But before Bly Manor arrived to acclaim in the fall of 2020, another adaptation landed just months earlier. It didn't do well with critics or audiences, and earned a very rare F CinemaScore for its ambiguous ending, but The Turning –– now streaming on Peacock –– remains a fascinating take on James' tale, complete with a memorable lead performance. 

Revisiting 2020's The Turning

Directed by music video legend (and Runaways director) Floria Sigismondi, this version of the story keeps much of the framework of the original James tale. A young woman named Kate (Mackenzie Davis) takes a job as a governess (or private tutor, in this case) at a secluded manor house, where she meets her young charge Flora (Cocaine Bear's Brooklynn Prince) and Flora's rebellious older brother Miles (Finn Wolfhard). Once she settles in at the house, she starts hearing and seeing things she can't explain, things that might be tied to the recent deaths of two former employees at the mansion, including the previous governess. 

This time around, the story's setting is updated to the 1990s, and Kate's own story gets some extra fleshing out, as we learn that she has a mother (Joely Richardson) plagued by mental illness, who stays in a care facility and paints all day. We also learn that, because her mother is ill and her father is gone, she has a soft spot for abandoned children like Flora, who believes that her previous governess simply left in the middle of night without saying goodbye. So, she takes the job, and immediately starts feeling like something isn't quite right at the manor house. 

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It's a pretty straightforward ghost story so far, and Sigismondi's visuals are satisfyingly atmospheric and creepy. So, why was The Turning greeted with such a rough reception? It has a lot to do with something that's a bit of a hallmark of James' original story: Ambiguity. The original tale is told from the point-of-view of the governess herself, absent a frame story that kicks things off, and while she claims to see the ghosts, she can never get confirmation that anyone else at the manor sees them. It's here that many Turn of the Screw adaptations diverge. Some, like The Haunting of Bly Manor, make the ghosts an inescapable reality of the situation, and derive great meaning from their presence. Others, like The Turning, leave the viewer guessing, at least a little bit, right down to the very end.

Now, if you've never seen this film, we don't want to give away the exact ending for you, but it was well-publicized when the film came out because the F CinemaScore from audiences was particularly derived from the conclusion. Upon closer inspection, though, and thanks to a very solid central performance by Davis, the ending actually works within the context of the overall film. It might not satisfy every horror viewer who comes across it, and it might not qualify The Turning to fit into the realm of the horror masterpiece, but all the pieces are there. And hey, even if you don't like the ending, Sigismondi manages to pour on plenty of creepy atmosphere to keep you occupied.

So, if you still haven't seen The Turning, head over to Peacock and check things out for yourself. You might be surprised by what you find.