Any family can seem perfect from the outside, though, despite the illusion, this is very rarely the case. The Turner Exhibit explores inter-family politics and, in writer/director Matthew Gregory Bainbridge’s own words, the interplay of their “anger, fear and contempt” and their ability to rot away at even the firmest of foundations. Anthony and Jeanette Turner appear to have it all: the family holidays, the high achieving son, even a middle-aged sex appeal. For brother Alex and wife Lisa, however, the rigours of life combined with the full-time care of their disabled daughter Alice seem to have taken a far greater toll. As familial motivations become clear, this thriller shudders towards its terrifying precipice, leaving an end to shake long held trust and turn stomachs.
The music we hear during the opening credits is atmospheric and chilling, cementing our expectations of the genre of the piece to come. The gallery of fleeting photographs from family events, gives a really nice variation to the visual aesthetic and filming techniques, and carries with them some really dense symbolism. Right from the off we are given a sense of Anthony and Jeanette’s ‘picture-perfect’ existence. The unnatural script and voiceover performances that underpin this collage of images reinforce our sense that the reality can’t possibly be as flawless as the façade, as indeed the film’s final twist confirms.
Likewise, our introduction to this half of the Turner family seems similarly false. Opening with a recorded video message, the film’s opening sequence is assured and refined. This miniature film within a film gives us our first glances of the complex politics and familial dynamics already at play, and as the camera slowly zooms out, we get the sense that what we see in this frame, will inevitably start seeping out into the Turner’s everyday existence.
The Turner Exhibit for many will prove to be a polarizing watch. Its horror elements have a touch of both Scream [Wes Craven, USA, 1996] and Peeping Tom [Michael Powell, USA, 1960], whilst its in-depth character analysis, albeit fascinating and well acted, may have been better at home in either television or feature film format. Whilst we are invited warmly in to spy on one half of the Turner family, the other half remain behind closed doors, with a twist that pulls the numerous rolls of camera footage into stark and chilling relief.
‘The Turner Exhibit’ was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2019.