Having read about the story and almost having seen the film a few years ago at the BFI, I stopped myself as I have never really enjoyed horror or spooky stories. Even though some thrillers can be quite terrifying. I pushed myself to see Crimson Peak last year but ghost stories really do get to me. Based on Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, my first film this year is The Innocents.
Before I watched the film, late late at night I should add, I watched the original US trailer. It echos what's in this poster, after a few clips it kept repeating 'do they ever return to possess the living?'. Saying this over and over rather gave the game away. I knew I was in for a ghost story and any story featuring children AND ghosts always seems even more disturbing.
Miss Giddens (Deborah Kerr) is engaged as a governess by an unfeeling wealthy bachelor who is the legal guardian of his neice and nephew. They live at his country estate where he rarely visits. Miss Giddens is put in sole charge of the children as the uncle does not want to be bothered with them.
Miss Giddens arrives and is at first excited to be in such a beautiful setting and is enchanted by Flora (Pamela Franklin) and later Miles (Martin Stephens) when he is expelled from school for disturbing behaviour. Miss Giddens asks the housekeeper, Mrs Grose, about the previous governess, Miss Jessel who committed suicide soon after the accidental death of her lover, Quint, the previous gardner. It seems that the two children were very close the deceased lovers and in fact may still have influence over them. Midd Giddens after a series of odd events becomes convinced that the ghosts of the dead lovers have possessed the children and becomes determined to save them.
The small cast is, I feel, part of the film and why the ghost story setting works. The large country house with a few people to inhabit it sets the scene and narrows down any foul play or suspicous pranks. The children are brilliantly cast, a mixture of innocence, hauty attitude and unsettling. Its no suprise that Martin Stephens was also cast as a creepy alien in 'The Village of the Damned'. The use of the ghosts are also not over used so when they do appear it is a shock.
Directed by Jack Clayton and co-written by Truman Capote, the story has echos of doubt and fear of the unknown. The unusual and irrational conclusion from Miss Giddens for the children's behaviour and the uneasy feeling throughout the house is Miss Giddens herself trying to understand the unknown. She has led a sheltered simply life so far and becomng a governess in the countryside with just two children for company would have and should have been simple too. But in a way, she needed this disturbing experience to break out of her shell. Unfortunately the ending doesn't conclude what happens next just a result which is both successful and tragic.
The elements of successful ghost story doesn't include blood, gore and moving objects. Modern ghost stories are full of these traits and they lose the essence. The Innocents uses suggestion, location and sounds working to a far greater effect. I was unnerved several times, especially the first time Miss Giddens sees Quint's ghost in a reflection of a window, devices such as these create a brilliant atmosphere. Another aspect of the film that I can't forget is the use of light. The hauting image of Kerr as she ascends the stair while holding a candelabra is superb. All that is needed is the candelabra, creepy laughter and the darkness and a ghost story scene is complete.
Now that I've seen it, I will still have nightmares and be wary of children standing in empty grand gardens and I think I'll double look at reflections in windows but I can also admire the brilliant look and story of The Innocents. This British film ticks all the right boxes as a ghost story that doesn't show its age. It will still be creepy for years to come.
To see where it all started and for an excellent insight to film, have a look at The Matinee and have a look HERE for more Blind Spot posts from other bloggers.