The Innocents: An Exercise in 60s Gothic Perversion

Posted: April 2, 2015 in Reviews
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the innocents

Every once in awhile when I’m drawing a blank as to what old movie to watch that I have never seen before, I like to google lists. I always see lists posted on social media sites like “Movies You Must Watch Before You Die” or “Movies You’ve Never Seen.” I like to google “Scariest Movies Ever Made” or things like “Horror Movies You Need to See.” One movie that constantly came up was The Innocents, a black and white British film from 1961 that more young people need to see.

A governess is hired despite her lack of experience to take full responsibility of two young children in a country estate. There’s Flora, an imaginative girl who the governess, Miss Giddens takes a quick bonding to. When the boy, Miles, is kicked out of his boarding school under mysterious circumstances, Giddens takes quick notice of his adult charm and flirtatious advances. As time goes on, Giddens hears mysterious voices and sees figures that disappear right before her eyes. She also learns about the suspicious death of the previous governess and how she might have never left.

The Innocents is before a time where shock is considered a value and jump scares come in every horror movie. This movie has both. The cinematography gives a forced perspective, especially during the night sequences, often giving the impression of “wait, did I just see something in the corner?” I’ve seen the movie four times now and every time there’s a window behind a character, I find myself staring at it, scared of someone popping out. (Yes, it happens!) But these scares aren’t even what makes this movie so creepy, it’s the lack of closure. Without spoiling the ending, the movie is based around stories told of what happened in the house before Giddens ever entered the picture. Who is lying? Are there really ghosts? The ending is one up for interpretation and discussion as the movie does simply end, but not without casualties.

Deborah Kerr as Miss Giddens is riveting and emotionally exhausting in all the right ways, but I give lots of cred to Martin Stephens as Miles. I have never felt so creeped out and uncomfortable from a child actor’s performance like this before. Instead of thinking “that kid is a real good actor,” I felt that child might actually be possessed. I even went online to find out he secretly was an adult playing a child. He’s that good and incredibly scary, especially in a scene where he recites an eerie poem that I now want tattooed. His interactions with Kerr are inappropriate, including suggestive kissing that’s taboo even by today’s standards.

It’s easy to see how later movies like The Others were influenced by The Innocents, but unlike The Others, we are not spoon fed any kind of satisfying conclusion. We are merely left with an emotion. Whether or not you end up loving The Innocents like I do, I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re still thinking about it long after watching.

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