Monday, 19 December 2016

I've Just Seen: The Innocents (1961)

 Director: Jack Clayton

In my mind I have a list of black-and-white films that would not work in colour, largely due to the beauty of the black-and-white cinematography. Clayton's The Innocents joins this list. Freddie Francis' camera plays with the shadows of Bly, the country estate where governess Miss Giddens is sent to to care for little Flora and Miles. The shadows are of two dead people, Peter Quint, a former valet, and Miss Jessel, the previous governess. Miss Giddens becomes increasingly perturbed by these apparitions and the oddness of Flora and Miles, and her behaviour becomes unsettling.

All the elements of this film work to create a strong emotion is discomfort and creepiness. As I said, the cinematography is eye-catching. The lack of colour in the grounds gives everything the pallor of death, while at night you wonder what is lurking in the dark places of rooms. The widescreen is used to stage characters at different distances to the camera, creating a disconnect between them, particularly between Miss Giddens and her charges. The acting is top-notch. Both Martin Stephens and Pamela Franklin are suitably weird as Miles and Flora, especially Stephens. Deborah Kerr is great as Miss Giddens, whose desire to understand Bly's mysteries brings unknown tensions and desires to the surface. You start to think that the monster resides just as much in her as the children and the house. The script is very good, drawing out the ambiguities of the story, and hinting at deviances and wrong-doing, but leaving enough blank spaces for our imaginations to fill in.

Watching films like this makes me wish more modern horror films used black-and-white cinematography, and went for the creep factor rather than the gore and splatter. People's imaginations can be just as frightening.


  1. People complain about a couple of things with horror movies. One is the constant ramping up of gore and nastiness. The other is the removal of same to get a PG-13 rating. Movies like this one (and I'd include The Haunting on this short list) show that you can do a lot with atmosphere and with no gore. Poltergeist (PG rated) is another, and The Others (the dreaded PG-13) does a lot of the same thing.

    For a movie that doesn't have any of the modern trappings of horror, this one works so well. I don't pimp my reviews that often, but I said some things in the first few paragraphs of my write up that I think you'll agree with:

    1. I think you and I have similar tastes surrounding horror films. I completely agree with your review. The opened-endedness of it makes this even more unsettling; you could watch this film several times, and come up with different conclusions.

    2. If you don't mind a single jump scare and a moment of pseudo-gore, I cannot recommend El Ofanato highly enough. Ditto The Devil's Backbone. Both of them are reminders that horror can be genuinely scary but beautiful at the same time.