Dir.: Jack Clayton
Starring: Deborah Kerr and Michael Redgrave
Based off Henry James’ monumental short story The Turning of the Screw, Jack Claytons’ The Innocents is a deep reaching infection of subtlety paired with a growing sensation of isolation and insatiable doom.
Governess Miss Giddens is commissioned by Michael Redgrave’s dismissive man of capital to care for his orphaned niece and nephew who he has adopted since birth so that he may live his own life. After settling in the mansion and getting to know her young wards as well as other members of the household, Giddens begins to become privy to some incredibly troubling events, particularly when the children start to act strangely. Deeply disturbing still, the house has a sordid, unthinkable history that refuses to be forgotten.
Considered shocking for its time yet not reviled because of it, The Innocents weaves a slow burning thread which eventually becomes a psychological inferno thanks to compelling performances (particularly from the child actors who act in several crucial, troubling sequences). Every frame emanates the cold, foreboding and lilting poisonous air pregnant with the extreme case of the “Brrrrrrs” which inherits the house and its surroundings and threatens to overcome the characters thanks to Freddie Francis as well as an uneasy score by Daphne Oram which marks the first prominent use of the synthesizer in film.
The Innocents, alongside Robert Wise’s The Haunting is the predecessor to many ghost and haunting films all the way up until now. As a matter of fact, Alejandro Amenábar’s 2001 chiller The Others owes a lot to Clayton’s film, practically down to some of the posters!
But all things aside, The Innocents is a landmark in psychological horror and the genre of spiritual possession thanks to its Gothic sensibilities as well as masterful talent in front of and behind the camera. As both an enormously important contribution to the cinematic pantheon of psychological/supernatural horror and a film which stands on its own two spectral feet, The Innocents more than deserves the praise and love it has received in years past and what will become beyond.