Logline: A woman becomes the governess of two children at an isolated country estate that she becomes convinced is haunted.
Review: Based on Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw, Jack Clayton’s The Innocents is a masterful gothic horror. Horror films, which are often plagued by genre cliches, benefit from the power of suggestion. The greatest strength of The Innocents lies in its suggestiveness and ambiguity. One can never be certain if the ghosts are real or imagined, Miss Giddens a hapless victim or an insane woman, and the children angelic innocents or sinister beings.
The Innocents is a genuinely frightening film and it grapples with some very dark themes revolving around sexual repression and innocence. It is difficult to believe that this film was released by a major Hollywood studio in 1961 but then again, it was a decade in which all kinds of barriers to artistic expression in cinema were being broken. The lighting, fluid camera movements, and use of shadow all amplify the film’s foreboding atmosphere.
As the governess Miss Giddens, Deborah Kerr is superb. Something must also be said of the child actors, Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin, who are truly remarkable. Like the story itself, the performances are full of ambiguity, leaving the film open to interpretation.
The Innocents is anything but your average haunted house movie. It is a Freudian psychosexual horror that lingers in the mind. I will be ruminating on this film and its dark implications for quite some time.
Rating (out of ****): ****
Great scene: One of the film’s many creep scenes.