Arriving in theaters this weekend is director Floria Sigismondi’s The Turning, a modernized adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. The story is centered around Kate (Mackenzie Davis), who has been hired to be a caretaker to two children named Flora (Brooklynn Prince) and Miles (Finn Wolfhard), but when she arrives to their familial estate, Kate begins to realize that things aren’t exactly what they seem, and they all might be in danger from the ghosts of the past, both literal and figurative.
During a recent press day for the film, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with Davis, who kicked all kinds of ass in Terminator: Dark Fate last year, about the daunting challenges of taking on this classic tale for modern audiences. Davis also discussed her character Kate, collaborating with Sigismondi, and how this story explores the dangers and lasting effects of not dealing with trauma.
Look for The Turning in theaters everywhere this Friday, courtesy of Universal Pictures.
It’s been really great seeing you pop up in so many different projects lately. Are you enjoying finding new ways to challenge yourself and push yourself in new directions?
Mackenzie Davis: I think so. I feel like in this past year, it really feels like I was doing that, because I did a big Terminator movie and then I did horror right after that. I think it's just, when you finish a project, you're like, "All right, that's enough of that. What's the next thing I can do that's totally different from this thing?" But I mean, I would do horror many times over if each version of it felt a little bit like a different thing to explore. It's just in the recent past it's been a fun challenge to be like, "What if I did something completely different next?"
Coming into The Turning, what was the appeal for you, in terms of playing Kate? Were you familiar with the original story, or even The Innocents or anything like that? The Innocents is one of my favorites, so I was excited to see what you guys were going to do here.
Mackenzie Davis: It's so great, I know. It's daunting to make a companion piece to that, but it does feel like this is really different. It's incredibly different. I was familiar with the novella. We read it in college. I loved it. I was really excited that they were doing an adaptation of it again. It felt so cool and yeah, what a great thing to have an adaptation of Turn of The Screw and be in Ireland. The problem with adapting the story, I think especially for modern audiences, is it's a very patient telling, the novella and The Innocents, of living in a meditative discomfort for a long time. And things accumulate and happen, but it's not really until the end where you're like, "Oh God," and then you have to go and watch it again and relive that space with a new lens.
I struggled to see how we could both make a horror movie that people would want to go and see and that was exciting, which wasn't really my concern, but it feels like that was the thing that we were going to do, and also be honest and faithful to the spirit of the story. And I think Floria's beautiful painterly mind is such a great way in, where it can feel horrifying and chilling, but it's not done broadly. It's still done so artistically, where even though we're watching the story play out visually, you can enter her [Kate’s] mind in a way that that feels true to the story.
What I thought was interesting about Floria’s approach to this story in particular is how much she leans into the power dynamic between Kate and the kids, how Kate’s pretty much on uneven footing from the very start, and it’s all downhill from there. And the sense of authority that your character has is false, and it ends up pushing her further and further into some dark places.
Mackenzie Davis: Yeah, and if [they] like you or adore you, which they do not in this film, there's still this club that you'll never be a part of, like the Sibling Club, and what they talk about in bed at night when they are falling asleep in bunk-beds. You're not invited to that world. And that's where all the plans are hatched. I think that any sort of authority is fleeting, especially when they choose to give it to you, not because you demanded or even earned it.
When you watch horror movies, there are always moments like, "Well, why doesn't so-and-so just leave?" And here, there's a moment where Kate really has to make a decision about whether to walk away from everything or just stay, and she chooses to stay. I was wondering if you could talk about that, and peeling back the layers on this woman who has every right to get the hell out of there and she doesn't.
Mackenzie Davis: Oh, yeah. My interpretation or way into this movie is that it is all about being haunted by trauma instead of ghosts, and what happens when you don't process childhood trauma or adult trauma in a healthy way, as you start to affect the people around you and you start to haunt them with your damage. I think one of the versions of that is the type of toxic masculinity that gets passed down through generation to generation. And another version is Kate, that she's very damaged from her childhood, her relationship with her parents and feelings of abandonment and wanting to correct retroactively something that happened to her in this moment. Even though these kids have no real tether to her and the idea of inhabiting a space that she so hates, that her mother created, the space of leaving is not an option for her.
Had she just gone to therapy and done some work and processed these traumas, she could've gotten in and been like, "You know what, you guys, it's only been two days. I think this is not for me, it's not a healthy thing." But she refuses to do that. And that stubbornness ends up being really destructive for her, for the kids, for this whole environment. Then she's passed her trauma on to them and now they can choose to deal with it or inflict it upon other people as well.
So, how much did you enjoy collaborating with Floria? What was that process like?
Mackenzie Davis: It was just a constant conversation that we had, really. I feel like so much of the work we did, like texting each other inspirations, a lot of these things don't appear in the film at all. You're just constantly doing work to figure out who this person is and then you drop it in there and see what happens on the day. So you're not being like, "Oh, okay. Be like The Carpenters in this interview, in this process." You just have to trust that you have done everything you can do and then see what comes out of it. So, we were just constantly texting songs and images and anecdotes and people or parts of a book to each other to make this woman her own.
You're going off to Ireland, shooting on this big, huge expansive property, in this incredible house, but you’re also cut off from the world a bit. How much did that help you, in terms of tapping into the isolation that Kate is feeling once she arrives?
Mackenzie Davis: I didn't realize how isolating it was until now that I'm talking about it, but it was, and I was instrumental in that isolation. I had the loveliest, draftiest little stone cabin right on the edge of the land, in front of the sea, that was just heated by fireplaces. It was 150 years old and tiny, but such a nice place to work. I would just have a fire and work on my stuff and go to work and then come home and have a fire and go to bed. But it felt very much like a place of my own making. And there was a huge place I went to work and then I went into my mind at night and it was a small zone, you know? It really helped me out a lot to have that kind of space to retreat to every night.