The Innocents

The Innocents

As james Wan continues to fumble around various haunted houses in the dark, hoping to recreate the essence of a time long gone, the ghosts of those he hopes to ape linger on. The Innocents, an adaptation of Henry James’s novel, The Turn of the Screw, is one of the finest examples of atmospheric horror. A classic tale of English Victorian Gothicism that evokes many recognisable traits and still manages to chill fifty years on.

Deborah Kerr is perfectly cast as the prim-and-proper governess, whom we first meet being interviewed by a wealthy bachelor (Michael Redgrave). His young niece and nephew came under his care some time ago and he no longer wants that responsibility. He will pay handsomely for the right person to move into his countryside estate in Bly, allowing him the freedom to continue enjoying the high life. Miss Giddens (Kerr) eagerly accepts the job, accepting the role wholeheartedly despite hearing of the sudden demise of the previous woman employed in her role.

Mrs. Grose, a chatterbox housekeeper on the estate, welcomes Miss Giddens as she first meets the young girl Flora and later on the boy Miles. The children are extremely well-mannered, with Miles in particular a very mature and smooth talking boy for his tender years. An eerie presence makes itself known the longer Miss Giddens is around, as she learns that the ghostly figures are the previous governess and her lover. Increasingly she becomes convinced that not only can the children also see them but they are also possessed by these spirits.

Director Jack Clayton builds a fine line between the ideas formed by Miss Giddens. Nothing is ever definitive enough for you to be sure that these children are involved or aware of what is taking place. The governess becomes increasingly manic convinced the children are in real danger, believing she is the only one who can save them. Up until the quite abrupt ending we are left to come to our own conclusions.

Whether it was a concious decision to shoot the film in black and white is not really known. The experience of roaming the large hallways is far more intense without colour, with candlelight creating a small circle of sight amidst the deep black. Clayton plays with sound and vision increasing the chill factor to great effect using very simple tools. He also guides the camera smoothly around the estate creating a stylish feel to the film that adds to the many juxtaposed framing of the characters. Clayton's approach feels fresh at all times, avoiding the typical clichés which make this a visual treat as much as anything else.

Kerr takes on the repressed role of the governess with utter conviction and it is her passion that drives the film. You cannot imagine she has a partner of any sort and that repressiveness seems to push her obsession about the dead lovers into overdrive. The idea of who is in danger shifts from one to the other and even though the very last scene offers a resolution of sorts, to its own benefit it is still not quite clear enough.

Across the board it is a chilling piece of work that makes the most of its already haunting setting, its potency increased with skill behind the camera and actors (including the children) who bring the story to life. The Innocents will certainly reward those who revisit it more than once, more than likely producing a different answer every single time.

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