The Innocents (1961)

Is she crazy? Or are the children possessed?

The Innocents tends towards the ambiguous, and I like that. Yes we see through the eyes of Miss Giddens, as played by Deborah Kerr, but is she seeing real spirits or is her mind playing tricks on her.

Giddens is hired by a man to look over his orphaned niece and nephew, and wants to hear nothing about them from her. He wants her to tend to all their needs and he wants no involvement at all.

So she heads off to the country side, in this Victorian Gothic tale.

When she arrives at the sprawling manor, with its closed off and empty rooms to take over as Governess to two young children, Miles and Flora. Miles has just been ousted from school, though is unwilling to talk about it.

Both of them seem darling, if slightly odd, children.

Giddens is quickly troubled by things she sees, someone passing the parapets of the manor, and then, in a truly freaky moment, a figure stepping out of the darkness turning a game of hide and seek.

As the story progresses we learn that their most recent Governess died as did her lover, the valet.

Giddens, who had a strong Christian upbringing begins to suspect that the previous governess and manor employee still walk the halls as spirits and exercise supernatural control over the children.

There are a number of troubling moments, when Miles, the young boy, asks for a good night kiss, and pressing his lips to Giddens’ in a long lingering kiss. Disturbing. But is he possessed by Mr. Quint, the valet, or is he just an ill-behaved child?

Little Flora is just as confusing, the film opens on a dark screen with a small voice singing over and over. We learn that Flora sings this song all the time, learning it from Miss Jessel, the previous governess, or perhaps remembering it as her. Giddens sees Jessel watching from the rushes around the tiny lake on the estate, which is freaky, as well as in the classroom.

When pressed to admit the truth, to admit that she sees Jessel standing there, Flora bursts into tears, demanding the head maid take her away from what everyone is slowly beginning to believe is an increasingly unstable Miss Giddens.

This leaves Giddens and Miles in the final confrontation as the sordid past of Jessel and Quint come to light.

The ending is tragic and leaves the viewer wondering, were the children truly possessed, was the estate haunted, or did Giddens simply descend into mental illness?

Mood is key in this film, and it’s brought to life by an amazing sound track. This is the first film in the 101 Horror Movies that has truly made use of sound design, and it works so well. The sound of birds leaving their roosts, flapping into the sky, only to reveal empty trees, the haunting music cue over and over, whispered voices, creaks, laughing children (never good in a horror movie) .

This film works very well, and was very enjoyable, it also put me in mind of The Woman in Black, and The Others, and The Orphanage (which I am looking forward to seeing again soon – it made the list of 101). There’s something about Victorian houses, spooky children, flickering candles, and whisperings of ghosts…

A truly spooky and enjoyable experience.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Dave Enkosky says:

    I love love this movie. One of those instances where the movie is just as good as the book it’s adapted from (Henry james’ Turn of the Screw). It works just as well as a spookfest as a psychological piece.

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