Writer/director Alex Galvin takes a novel approach to his feature The Turn of the Screw, his adaptation of the classic Henry James novella. Setting the New Zealand-made film at a play rehearsal for The Turn of the Screw one night before the play opens at a Wellington theater, the approach puts the last-minute replacement actress Julia (Greer Phillips) in an unfamiliar environment. As she goes through what the director Richard (Ralph Johnson) calls an unofficial dress rehearsal, Julia finds herself becoming increasingly distressed and fearful as the play proceeds.
Whereas the governess in the source novella slowly begins to believe that the house in which she is put in charge is haunted, Julia starts to see strange sights and hear odd noises. The theater is empty other than the cast, director, and sound and lights crew members — or is it?
Phillips is marvelous as the understudy given a frantically rushed chance to take a lead role in a production of a well-known story. She portrays the initial nervous giddiness of the young actress wonderfully, and is superb as Julia becomes increasingly frightened and frustrated. Phillips carries the film, appearing in practically every scene and almost every shot, and she does so admirably. She is aided beautifully by Johnson and the other cast members, including Jane Waddell as Mrs. Grose and, as the governess’s young charges, Ella Olsen Flora and Alex Usher as Miles.
Galvin’s screenplay follows the James original well, and adds interesting flourishes that make The Turn of the Screw much more than simply a filmed play. His pacing is solid and the suspense and scares are well crafted. Mark Papalii’s cinematography is splendid, and Ewan Clark’s score compliments the proceedings marvelously.
Fans of classic horror and gothic horror will find plenty to adore and be delighted with in Galvin’s The Turn of the Screw. The performances alone are enough to give it a high recommendation, and the technical aspects, direction, and screenplay seal the deal.
The Turn of the Screw will screen as part of the Another Hole in the Head Film Festival, which runs online from December 11–27, 2020. For more information about the festival, visit https://www.ahith.com/.