Top 100 Films-#98 Top 20 Horror Films- #19
Scott’s Review #639
Reviewed April 29, 2017
The Innocents is a 1961 British, psychological horror film, that is a ghost story, of sorts, and based on the novella, The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. The film, though clearly horror, contains few of the traditional horror elements, such as contrived frights, jumps, and blood. Rather, the film succeeds by using lighting and magnificent cinematography by Freddie Francis. And, of course, wonderful story-telling and direction from Jack Clayton.
Deborah Kerr gives a wonderful turn as a beleaguered governess hired by a wealthy bachelor (Michael Redgrave) to tend to his young niece and nephew- Flora and Miles. The setting is a lavish, yet creepy, mansion somewhere outside of London. As the Uncle goes away to India on business, Miss Giddens, with no previous experience, is left to tend to Flora and Miles, who both begin acting strangely.
To complicate matters, Miss Giddens begins to see sinister ghosts lurking around the property. The ghosts are former servants of the household, who have died, in which Miss Giddens has never met before. Miss Giddens is assisted only by the kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, who fills her in on the servant’s tragic deaths.
The Innocents, shot in black and white, a very wise decision in my book, use sound to its advantage and combined with the interesting camera angles and focus shots- mostly of the ghosts Miss Giddens sees, makes the film unique and downright scary. As she begins by hearing strange voices, she becomes convinced that Miles and Flora are playing tricks on her, engaging in mischievous games. The sounds of the whispers are quite haunting and do wonders for the effects and chill it will undoubtedly give the viewer as the film moves along.
The question throughout the film is whether Miss Giddens is imagining the voices and visions, or if this is a true reality. Could the children be sinister and be playing a vicious prank on her? Could Mrs. Grose be evil? Certainly, nobody else within the household sees or hears anything amiss- or admits to it.
Kerr, a treasured actress, plays the part with emotional facial expressions and true fear, so much so that she will win the audience over, as we side and empathize with her character. Still, is she a woman on the verge of a mental breakdown? Does she have past mental problems? Like the uncle, we know nothing of her past, only that she claims to be a minister’s daughter. How then does she have stylish, expensive clothes? Could she only be pretending to be a governess? Has she run away from her past?
The Turn of the Screw is a true ghost story, but The Innocents is a bit different- it relies upon, successfully, as more of a character-driven story. As Miss Giddens becomes convinced that both children have become possessed by the spirits of the servants, she makes it her mission to rescue the children from the spirits. We have an ominous feeling that events will not end well and they most certainly do not.
Several scenes will frighten the viewer- as Miss Giddens sees a haggard ghost (the female servant) quietly standing in the distance near a lake as Flora dances chirpily, the image of the faraway ghost figure is eerie and well-shot. In this way, the film draws comparisons to the classic Hitchcock film, Rebecca, as each is British, taking place in large mansions, and feature dead characters as complex villains. Also, in each film, the sanity of the main character is in question.
With a compelling story and the nuts and bolts surrounding the story to add clever effects and a chilling conclusion to the film, the film succeeds as a wonderful and smart horror film. With great acting all around, including great performances by the child actors, The Innocents scares the daylights out of any horror fan and uses exterior and interior scenes to make the film an all-around marvel.