'The Turning' Soundtrack Is Even Better Than 'The Turning' Movie

the turning
Universal Pictures

We often see horror movies for the experience of it -- the jumps, spooks, and scares, etc. that make watching them unlike any other kind of flick. In the case of The Turning, the big studio horror movie out this January to fill the doldrums of the always bleak winter release calendar, the best experience isn't necessarily the movie at all. It's in the soundtrack. 

Floria Sigismondi's (The Runaways, Handmaid's Tale) The Turning is a mostly fine '90s-set retelling of the 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. It's got some middling scares and a good cast, including Mackenzie Davis (Halt and Catch Fire, Terminator: Dark Fate) as a governess looking after two orphaned siblings (Stranger Things' Finn Wolfhard and The Florida Project breakout star Brooklynn Prince) who live in an especially creepy/maybe haunted estate. You could brace the cold weather to get to the theaters to see it and would probably have an alright time. (I did!) Or, you could opt to stay in, set out some moody candles, and listen to the soundtrack, twirling around your room Stevie Nicks-style because it's absolutely killer and essentially relays the film's plot through its songs.

Not only does The Turning soundtrack effectively capture the maddening tone, it's an impressive, entirely original compilation. Made up of alluring rock songs by mostly women artists and bands fronted by women, from legends like Courtney Love and Kim Gordon to indie darlings like Mitski and Soccer Mommy, the soundtrack takes you to the frightening, lonely place that Mackenzie Davis' Kate endures more effectively than the film. 

While Sigismondi has some film/TV directing credits to her name, she's best known as a major music video director -- working with artists like Rihanna, Katy Perry, Marilyn Manson, and others -- so it makes sense that music would be an integral part of her latest feature. She reached out to frequent collaborator and songwriter/producer Lawrence Rothman to make the album come together, and they, along with Rothman's brother Yves, commissioned artists (aside from Mitski and Alice Glass) to visit to their LA studio to produce a cohesive-sounding record. Making a soundtrack this way, as opposed to featuring already released music, is of course nothing new, but here, the current indie rock and dream pop music is made to sound as if it's straight out of the '90s, coalescing into both an integral mood-setting part of and standalone companion to the movie. 

the turning
Mackenzie Davis and Brooklynn Prince in 'The Turning' | Universal Pictures

Never does the new music feel out of place while watching the film, and on the record, the tracks make rock sound as fresh as ever. Scenes featuring Kate putting on a cassette tape that plays Soccer Mommy's "Feed" isn't confusing; it sends a shiver down your spine with its fuzzy guitars and singer Sophie Allison's breathy voice, sparking curiosity over what this new song is when Sigismondi could have made the easier choice to feature something actually from the era, like Nirvana, instead. By bringing together innovative and rightfully creepy guitar-focused songs from Mitski, Sunflower Bean, and Vagabond together on the album, it makes a strong case that rock is not dead. Rather, these are the rising voices who are making it exciting. 

What makes the artists' contributions so interesting is that, for the most part, they (spoiler alert!) mirror Kate's descent into insanity -- except here, her reaction to violence and fear of her own mind is more eerily pronounced and concrete. The way that "the ghosts were just a figment of her imagination all along" is revealed in the movie comes off as a typical horror trope (especially if you're not already familiar with the source material), but on the soundtrack, it doesn't scan as a cop-out. Instead, it thrusts you into Kate's psyche and works as a cohesive commentary on how isolating a woman's experience with mental illness can be. "Womb," Cherry Glazerr's creepy romp about feeling empty, has reverberating guitars so loud they suck the life out of you, and you can't help but feeling wistful listening to "Call Me," Empress Of's synth-pop number reflecting on trauma. The producers gave the recording artists "diaries" of the characters to inspire this mindset, and the end result proves how successful they were musically in capturing this mental landscape that didn't feel quite as satisfying or concise on screen. 

You can pull the plot right out of the track-listing (see girl in red's dizzying "Kate's Not Here") and certainly throughout all of the the lyrics, but as a whole, it's an enticing concept album. If you have to choose which to spend more time with, The Turning itself or its soundtrack, make it the soundtrack so you can lose your head a bit by delving into this roster of great artists. The Turning (The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) leaves you feeling mad, and not in the way you might feel if you had just walked out of the actual movie. 

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Sadie Bell is the entertainment editorial assistant at Thrillist. She tweets about music at @mssadiebell.