The Innocents (1961)


The Innocents, based on Henry James’s short story The Turn of the Screw and with a screenplay written by Truman Capote, tells the story of Miss Giddens, a woman who is charged with the responsibility of taking care of two young children, Miles and Flora. The children’s uncle, busy in London and seemingly detached and uninterested in them, sends the governess to the family’s sprawling, but practically empty estate (there are probably 3 other adults there), to take care of them. Miss Giddens is charmed and taken by the young pair, but she quickly begins to grow uneasy when she starts witnessing strange things and slowly senses that the two children are not always acting quite like themselves.

As her stay continues, she becomes convinced that the children are somehow under the spell of the spirits of the children’s former warden/valet, Peter Quint, and their former governess, Miss Jessel. The two spirits have a seemingly dangerous power over her two new wards, causing them to be overly scheming, secretive, mischievous and sometimes violent, to the point where young Miles is expelled from his boarding school.

You just wait till I find out what
you’re hiding from me, you little snots.

This is a true ghost story at it’s heart, and it’s most surely one of the better ones. The use of sound adds beautifully to the tension, where seemingly harmless noises (birds, giggling) can quickly take on a menacing edge. The use of subtle visual cues, often seen to the viewer before the protagonist, also have the potential to haunt many a nightmare.

Then again, if movies have taught me anything, all English estates have
some sort of creep wandering around at all times, right?

The movie portrays Miss Giddens gradual decent into panic as harrowing. Yet at the same time, the portrayal leaves just enough room in the viewers mind for them question whether or not there are really ghosts wandering the grounds, or if the strange happenings are simply the result of the fevered imaginings of an increasingly disturbed woman who desperately needs more human interactions with people. Preferably those over the age of ten.

Trying to find the source of those strange noises on those sprawling
estates in the middle of the night probably isn’t the best thing for
anyone’s psyche, either.

The art direction in this movie is beautiful, as should be expected. It is a large semi-gothic manor after all, so at no point is there a shortage of excellent opportunity. It should also come as no surprise that some of the most beautiful moments involve the ominous specters themselves.

Must be a ghost. There’s no other reason for a living being to be out
there in that dress.

I feel it should also be said that the children in this film are exceptional. Doing a film based around children can often be a risky endeavor, so I feel it’s important to point out the cases where the risk didn’t blow up in anyone’s face. The two actors here have wonderful brother-sister chemistry and Martin Stephens (Miles) is very good at transitioning from angelic to ominous with seemingly little effort.

He is truly effectively creepy. Course, the damn ghost behind him doesn’t hurt.

Overall, The Innocents is an excellent ghost story, but also has elements of suspense and psychological horror. The atmosphere is appropriately dark, the visuals are stunning and the acting is top-notch. So if any of that sounds appealing to you, than this is definitely something you may want to take a look at.

SIDE NOTE: If you haven’t seen the movie yet, but swear the plot sounds eerily familiar, that’s because the source material, The Turn of the Screw, has been the inspiration of several opera and radio adaptations, as well as about 11-12 different movie/TV adaptations, including The Others with Nicole Kidman (which was more inspired by the book than an adaptation of it, but you get the point).


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