With a lengthy 180 minutes running time, The Turning can feel like hard work with its dark themes and haunting tones throughout. However, there are many exciting and interesting aspects at the heart of this ambitious passion project.
An adaptation of short stories by Australian writer Tim Winton, The Turning boasts a great cast that includes several familiar faces and also some lesser known ones. Eighteen short films that all vary in length with different directors that occasionally use different approaches to tell each story including animation and dance. The Turning thankfully manages to keep one natural flow throughout the three hours and is impressively cohesive, not falling into the short film constraints of having a great number of stories that don’t have a connection with one another. It is apparent that this unique project had a strong rule of keeping Winton’s themes at the core of the film. The main theme being how past events can affect people whether it be for better or worse sometimes leading to obsession, dealing with age, depression and perceptions of religion. The viewer gets to see characters cope with these different experiences and people even re-appear in different segments at different times of their lives. There are moments where everything seems to drag and become slightly overwhelming due to the rather bleak subject matter, but the aforementioned narrative devices help the viewing experience more pleasant.
Apart from a few miscalculated entries most of the short stories are significant individual pieces of work. One of them is Reunion by director Simon Stone starring Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh as a suburban couple that suddenly have to change their traditional Christmas plans when Roxburgh’s mother Robyn Nevin decides to visit them. Initially the viewer does not know what to make of this story until Blanchett and Nevin’s character start to interact and form an unlikely bond making it one of the more light-hearted entries, and provide a nice break from the dark material. The quirkiest and most exciting episode comes courtesy of actress Mia Wasikowska making her writer-directorial debut with Long, Clear View about a wacky young schoolboy and his bizarre imaginations such as imagining God as a newscaster. It would be easy to mistake Wasikowska for a veteran director as she appears to be very confident behind the camera and creates an onslaught of visually engaging images.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the title chapter itself which proves to be the most disappointing entry of the collection. Claire McCarthy’s effort starts off very promising with emotional performances from Rose Byrne playing a mother in a violent marriage and Miranda Otto as her caring neighbour who is in a loving marriage with a recovering alcoholic. Both are in contrasting situations yet form a natural bond in regards to other more meaningful aspects in their lives. However this story takes a mighty tumble once Byrne realises the happily married couple are born again Christians. After a hostile reaction she begins to have a revelation about where her life is leading to if she stays in her situation. What follows is a rushed, painful disappointing ending with spiritual imagery that feels forced and even amateurish ultimately taking away from the emotional impact. Overall however there are enough redeeming elements to recommend The Turning. For an extended amount of interlinking short stories the tone surprisingly stays consistent and effective let down by some missteps and draining running time.