Based on Henry James' novella, 'The Turn of the Screw', 'The Innocents' (1961), is a stylish pyschological horror from British director Jack Clayton. The film is set in Victorian England and stars Deborah Kerr as Miss Giddens, a young woman who is hired to work at a mansion as a governess to a brother and sister (Miles and Flora).
Miss Giddens becomes increasingly disturbed and unsettled by the strange, adult behaviour of the two children in her care. After she begins to see the ghostly figures of a man and woman, both deceased, who used to work at the mansion and had spent a great deal of time with the children, it soon becomes apparent that there is much more to the story.
By today's standards, 'The Innocents' is quite slow-paced, with plot details filtered in gradually throughout the film, but the tension and unnerving atmosphere built up during this time is essential to the film's style and mood. The fear and shocks are not achieved by including copious amounts of gore and violence, but with the clever use of lighting/shadow and subtle soundtrack, together with the creepy demeanor of the two "innocents".
A large part of the credit for the wonderful visuals created goes to the cinematographer, Freddie Francis. He used a striking combination of deep focus and hard, strong lighting, which achieved strange, dark shadows and allowed the viewer to see both what happened in the foreground and background equally well during certain parts of the movie. Oppositely, the depth of field is also used to blur an apparition in the background in a scene by the lake, which comes later on in the film. This helps to add to the uncertainty about Miss Giddens' sanity, as Flora claims she cannot see the figure, and the audience too cannot see it entirely.
In addition to the fantastic aesthetics, the acting is quite outstanding too. Martin Stephens, who also appeared in 'Village of the Damned' where he must have refined his spooky little boy talents, plays the role of Miles amazingly well and, at times, it really doesn't seem like you're watching a child on the screen at all. Deborah Kerr also gives a great performance, sometimes switching from smiles to concerned facial expressions to full-blown hysterics all in the same scene, although she does over-play it a little occasionally.
'The Innocents' is defintely a must see for fans of psychological horror and suspense movies, as it is one of the best of its time and has aged extremely well. Anyone who likes to be entertained with more than just blood and guts, or those who enjoy a little ambiguity at the end of the feature will also find it of interest.
The trailer is quite dreadful and takes away from the tone of the film, so instead, below are two scenes featuring Flora and Miles.