The Innocents

The Innocents ★★★★★

Entry number 6 in Shocktober 2014.

I was already quite familiar with the story and themes of this film via its source, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. That book (novella, really) is probably the pinnacle of the gothic horror genre, full as it is with ghostly apparitions and undertones of homosexuality and inappropriate relationships. I was worried, then, that this adaptation would leave out some of the weirder and more layered ideas in favor of scary ghosts. I needn't have been so afraid. If anything, this version of the story amplifies those undercurrents so that they almost become text. It's a delicate balance between overt statements and vagueness that the movie walks, but it balances it brilliantly so that all sides of this wonderful story are allowed to blossom.

The acting really helps. In my many readings of The Turn of the Screw, I never felt much for any of the characters as much as I admired James for manipulating me so cleverly and playing up the uncanny story beats. With Deborah Kerr at the center of the film, though, I was super invested in what happened to her and how her take on things shifted as new bits of the story were revealed. She's caring early on and fearful later, with the transition happening subtly but powerfully. By the end she's in a ragged state and becomes almost as terrifying as the man at the windows. Almost. The rest of the small cast is also great. Martin Stephens plays the young boy Deborah Kerr is hired to look after (along with his sister) and he is so good that you can almost believe he is actually possessed by the spirit of an older man. And, when you watch the movie through a psychological lens, his performance is even better. Truly one of the best young actors I've ever seen.

And the movie looks amazing, too. It was filmed in Cinemascope, which gives it a bit of an eerie feeling when watched on a flat screen, but that's to the good of the film, I think. It also allows the stunning black and white photography to shine, with deep and foreboding blacks revealed by the brightest whites. The super wide screen format makes even close ups feel packed full of background detail. The gorgeous but sinister sets are given their full due thanks to Jack Clayton's superb direction. The last fifteen minutes or so are spectacularly creepy and, at a point, outright terrifying. The camera whips around and we're thrown off balance. It's amazing, one of the best horror films of all time.

Alex liked this review