Throwback Thursday: The Innocents (1961)

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Based on the Henry James novella, The Turn Of The Screw; The Innocents is perhaps one of the most underrated and influential ghost stories of all time.

Produced and directed by Jack Clayton; it tells the story of Miss Giddens, the newly appointed governess to two young children at a country estate in Bly. Chosen despite her lack of experience by the children’s uncle who freely admits wanting no responsibility for the infants, she quickly rises to the occasion and forms an almost motherly bond with Miles and Flora.

When Miss Giddens begins to see strange figures wandering the grounds and notice odd behaviours in the children, she begins to think that there are supernatural going on’s that are somehow linked to the estates dark past. As she becomes increasingly convinced that the children are keeping secrets from her, she becomes convinced that the children are being haunted by two ghosts looking to possess their human bodies.

Is it all in her head or is everything she believes really happening? This is the central question being asked in The Innocents, a rare gothic horror film that doesn’t want to give its audience all of the answers. There’s an ambiguity to the lead character Miss Giddens; the filmmakers cleverly planting the seeds of doubt in our mind during the films opening interview scene.

“Do you have an imagination?”. This is the first question we hear Miss Giddens being asked, and her lack of experience in child care is addressed soon after. So when she starts to hear voices and see things, we immediately begin to question her psychological state of mind and that in turn makes The Innocents much more than a simple ghost story.

It’s not a film interested in jump scares and gruesome thrills, but more in creating an unsettling atmosphere. This is easily achieved and from the films opening moments, which has a young child singing “O Willow Waly”, the chilling tone of the film is apparent and in itself enough to give you shivers.

Sound is used to great effect throughout The Innocents, with very little score and the diegetic sounds of the scene being used to create tension. Great moments of silence occur too and the film is just as much about what we don’t hear as much as it is about what we do. The same can be said about it visually as well, and at times it can feel like we as a viewer are being left out of the bigger picture.

There’s one scene in particular where Flora is sat at her window at night, once again singing the films theme, “O Willow Waly”. As she sings, the shot is an extreme close up of her face. Suddenly she catches a glimpse of something and begins to smile a smile that is equally angelic and troublesome. We never get to see what she does and that’s part of the genius of the film.

It revels in playing with our minds, in prodding and stretching our imaginations by never telling us exactly what’s going on.

Image credit to http://www.classicfilmsreloaded.com

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