This contemporary adaptation of The Turn of the Screw takes the ornate enigma of Henry James’s gothic novella and whittles it down into something rather more flat and conventional. This version, directed by Floria Sigismondi (who showed promise with her music biopic debut, The Runaways), is a fairly basic haunted house horror flick, complete with jump scares, possessed mirrors and a score that sounds as if somebody pushed a children’s choir into a well. A false ending and a clumsily grafted alternative version is all that acknowledges the psychological ambiguity of the source material, and of previous film adaptations, notably Jack Clayton’s The Innocents in 1961.
Mackenzie Davis stars as Kate, the primary school teacher turned live-in governess for an orphaned eight-year-old and her older brother. She arrives at a gloomy manor house that has been production-designed into a state of nervous exhaustion – life-size mannequins gaze at her in glassy disapproval; cobwebby net curtains wrap themselves round her face whenever she so much as glances at a window.
And then there are the children. In fact, the two children are the film’s main asset, both existing in the uncertain hinterland between innocence and evil. As the precocious but overprotected Flora, Brooklynn Prince (The Florida Project) flits between mercurial mischief and malice; her older brother, Miles (Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard), exudes the charm and careless cruelty of extreme privilege. The children, sniffs the cadaverous housekeeper, are thoroughbreds. Her inference is that Kate is simply not in the same league. It’s a fair assessment. Davis has the look of someone who has been chucked into the deep end of an ornamental koi pond. And there’s very little in the curiously inert screenplay, by Carey and Chad Hayes, to which she can cling.
Source: The Guardian