Movie Review: The Innocents (1961)

Seen: On dvd on our projector set-up, rented from netflix.

When I fell in love with The Haunting a few months ago, several people recommended The Innocents, another atmospheric horror movie from the 60s, though with fewer gay undertones and more children. Deborah Kerr stars as Miss Giddens, new governess to orphaned children Miles and Flora. Provided for by their wealthy uncle but rarely shown any affection by him, they live in a large country estate with various servants and caretakers. Miss Giddens is instantly smitten with her precocious charges, but feels there is an unfriendly presence in the house. After hearing about the recent deaths of the previous governess and a domineering valet, she becomes convinced that their ghosts have remained on the grounds and are exerting a dangerous influence on the children. Knowing their uncle will not want to be bothered, she sets out to save the souls of Miles and Flora by herself.

With ghastly apparitions and seedy undertones, The Innocents is as much as horror story as it is a twisted morality tale. Miss Giddens- a prim minister’s daughter who delights in the naivete and prepubescent bliss of children- is a force for Christian rectitude. She senses something unholy, some evil brought about by the distasteful sexual escapades of the two dead lovers, and is convinced their ghostly carnal desires are infecting her innocent charges. These kids have seen more than their young eyes deserve, and it’s clear that their experiences have forced them to mature quickly in some ways. How much of that may be the workings of two nefarious ghosts is hard to say, since most of the paranormal activity is only witnessed by Miss Giddens herself, who may just be overwhelmed by prudishness and a sudden (totally understandable) aversion to children. Of course, it all seems very real and I was willing to believe Quint and Miss Jessel were actually haunting this house, especially since their apparitions were pretty damned scary. Miss Jessel’s appearance in the marshes freaked me the fuck out. Their sordid tale and Miss Giddens’ reaction to it oozed spooky scandal, and regardless of the “reality” I was into it.

I loved the melodramatic flare and moody camerawork, the effective use of candle lighting and the antebellum costumes- it is a beautiful film in many ways. It is also unpredictable, and fairly horrific in its conclusion. Its suggestive sexuality is weird and unexpected as the script toys with this idea of promiscuous adults partially inhabiting the bodies of children. While I really appreciated all of these factors, I found I wasn’t wholly absorbed by the film. Maybe it was the pacing, which was too gradual and seemed to miss certain beats, or maybe it was all the unresolved issues. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something that keeps me from all-out loving The Innocents, though I can readily say I was really impressed by it.


Pair This Movie With: Well the aforementioned The Haunting is indeed a good pairing! Also, for more creepy stories with kids and big mansions, there’s The Orphanage and The Others. Finally, for something more film noiry, I feel like Night of the Hunter would be an interesting pairing because of its similar themes of children’s supposed innocence and adult influence.

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