The Innocents (1961)
A creepy, captivating & chilling British horror that still packs enough power to scare, startle & surprise its audience after all these years, The Innocents is an ingeniously crafted example of its genre that makes impressive use of its remote setting & eerie atmosphere to deliver a tense, taut & thrilling experience, and thanks to the fine line it walks between supernatural & psychological horror, it continues to be a subject of discussion amongst film buffs even today.
Set in Victorian England, the story of The Innocents concerns Miss Giddens who is hired as a governess by a wealthy bachelor to raise his nephew & niece who live at his large country estate. Granted full authority over the children despite her lack of experience, she arrives at the property unsure & nervous but finds herself instantly taken with the two kids. But as time progresses, she begins to suspect that there is something amiss about the place and comes to fear that it may be haunted.
Directed by Jack Clayton, the film tries to establish an uneasy vibe with a song even before the company’s logo appears on the screen, and it doesn’t take long to set up the premise. A sense of mystery & apprehension pervades the air from the moment we arrive at the manor and are introduced to the children, and it only escalates from that point onwards. Clayton directs each segment with meticulous attention to detail and keeps a firm grip on all aspects to keep the uncanny vibe alive until the end.
The screenplay incorporates both supernatural & psychological themes to keep the audience guessing whether the apparitions are for real or simply the imagination of the young governess though there are subtle hints sprinkled throughout the picture to indicate where it gravitates towards more. The story itself unfolds in an incredibly poised fashion, taking its time and allowing the foreboding mood to set up naturally while the interactions between the governess & the kids only get more awkward as plot progresses.
The vast country house & its isolated location provide just the right environment for the mind to go haywire and the camera utilises every available space to ratchet up the tension. Shot in crisp black-n-white, the images exhibit a sharpness & intensity that is attained by inventive use of deep focus & bright lighting. Editing is almost as inspired, as evident in dissolves that feature multiple images superimposed on top of one another in a single frame. And its unsettling aura is further magnified by its terrific sound design & fitting score.
Coming to the performances, The Innocents features a committed cast in Deborah Kerr, Pamela Franklin, Martin Stephens, Megs Jenkins & Michael Redgrave. Kerr plays Miss Giddens and aptly articulates everything her character is experiencing in a given moment, plus her chemistry with Flora & Miles, the two kids creepily played by Franklin & Stephens, is spot-on. Jenkins provides fine support in her role as the housekeeper while Redgrave is only around during the opening segment, standing in as the children’s uncle who has no time for them.
On an overall scale, The Innocents remains one of the finest examples of its genre that has effortlessly stood the test of time, and remains just as effective today as it was at its time of release. A gothic horror imbued with themes of sexual repression & child isolation, this elegantly crafted & patiently narrated tale makes each n every aspect work in its favour, and is all the more uplifted by Deborah Kerr’s career-best performance. As accomplished in storytelling aspects as it is refined in the technical department, The Innocents is a timeless classic that’s absolutely worth your time & money. Strongly recommended.