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Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Innocents

     Deborah Kerr plays Miss Giddens, who takes a job at a huge English country estate as governess to two young children.  Miss Giddens soon begins having strange experiences at the estate.  She hears whispers.  She begins to see strange people.  Even better, something sinister seems to be going on with the children- they seem to harbor some deep, dark secret- sly glances, conspiratorial grins- you can't beat a good old creepy kid in a horror movie, and "The Innocents" offers up two of them.  Miss Giddens starts to suspect that the children are possessed by the former caretaker and governess... or is it all in her mind?

      Based on "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James, "The Innocents" ranks alongside "The Haunting" as one of the best ghost stories of the 1960's.  And almost as scary, in its own way.  It proves once again that a movie can be chilling without ever shedding a drop of blood or showering us with special effects.  Instead what makes "The Innocents" such a surprisingly effective ghost story is the silence, darkness, and atmosphere of the movie.  It's claustrophobic and creepy, especially with the wonderful black and white cinematography.   For a movie released in 1961, there is a truly disturbing tone throughout.  Like "The Haunting", the movie seems almost diseased.  Dark secrets and even darker shadows abound, and the movie offers many rather unsettling scenes.  To me the lady standing by the lake will always haunt my mind.  She totally creeped me out.

     The strange and inexplicable noises and apparitions begin almost immediately, and it becomes almost dreamlike to the viewer.  We truly never know if what we're seeing is really happening, or if its all in poor Deborah Kerr's mind.  I guess technically, "The Innocents" isn't really a ghost story per se- the actual presence of any supernatural being is never actually confirmed or denied.  That is the brilliance of this movie.  It's completely ambiguous, and we're left to come to our own conclusions about what we've just seen.  We see strange and scary beings, but we're still just never quite sure if they are real.

     Regardless of whether you come away from "The Innocents" calling it a dark psychological thriller or a classic ghost story, you cannot deny its power to get under your skin.  It's an extremely well-made movie, and it did take me by surprise, I must say.  I have always been a huge fan of "The Haunting", and somehow never saw "The Innocents" as a child.  I'm glad I finally saw it, and I highly recommend it.  This is a perfect movie for a windy October afternoon.  And it's also a movie that requires repeat viewings.  I got much more out of it the second time.

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