Directed by Jack Clayton [Other horror films: Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)]
Very much a classic movie, The Innocents is a very interesting case, perhaps one of the best cases, of a horror film with an interpretative plot. The story’s simple, in which a governess is hired to watch over two children, but as things turn sour, are there supernatural spirits afoot, is the governess losing her mind, some combination of the two, or a simple case of possession?
The Innocents asks a lot of questions and doesn’t much give in the way of answers (The Turn of the Screw, the novel by Henry James which this story is based off of, is much in the same vein). In some cases, that bothers me, but here, I think it’s done really well. We’re sucked into the idea that Miles and Flora are being possessed, but there’s enough evidence to suggest a failing mental health is more the culprit. Fans of both psychological horror films, along with supernatural/ghost movies, should definitely give this a watch for this interpretation issue alone.
Personally, I’ve been of the mind that Deborah Kerr’s governess character, due to a lot of factors, is just losing it, and becoming a bigger danger to the kids (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens) as opposed to anything supernatural. That said, nothing’s written in stone, and there are scenes which lead credence to both possible solutions.
Deborah Kerr is fantastic here, and again, I think you can see her beginning to lose her grip clearly as the movie goes on. The two kids, being Pamela Franklin (who starred, 12 years later, in The Legend of Hell House) and Martin Stephens, both do beautifully, though boy, does Stephens’ Miles get annoying after a while. Lastly, as a housekeeper, Megs Jenkins too brings a lot, and it’s from her that Kerr’s character begins dwelling on the possibility of possession.
The Innocents has a very creepy vibe to it, which is bolstered by the large, Gothic mansion and the black-and-white cinematography, not to mention that dreary tune that pops up now and again. Oh, and the poem that Miles read during the party was also a nice touch, especially since no one but Kerr’s character seemed to find anything wrong with it.
I’ve only seen The Innocents twice now, but I do think it’s very much a classic that warrants looking into. Compared to many modern day horror movies, it may seem quite tame, but I think it holds it’s creepy vibe wonderfully, and with the fantastic setting and interpretation that will no doubt take place by the viewer, this one is a winner.