Thursday, October 8, 2015

Deep Cuts #3: The Innocents

(Just in time for Halloween, the "Deep Cuts" series highlights horror films I think deserve a little more recognition. Not to say they're obscure by any means-- most are major releases. I just want to give them a little more love is all. Enjoy!)

Index of all "Deep Cuts" entries, updated as they're posted

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The Innocents
British/ American, 1961, d. Jack Clayton

Quite simply, one of my favorite films. Ambiguous, hallucinatory, and disturbing; yet also understated and efficient. It has an elegant simplicity that makes it a pleasure to watch.

Based on the Henry James novella "Turn of the Screw", then adapted for the stage and screen in a process that involved both William Archibald and Truman Capote, "The Innocents" bears quite a literary pedigree.

The film hinges on subjective perception, and on the unreliable narratives that can result. A newly arrived governess (Deborah Kerr) tries to parse the recent goings-on involving two children left by their neglectful father at a British country estate. The cast is flawless-- Kerr, the children (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens) and Megs Jenkins as housekeeper Mrs. Grose all rise to the occasion wonderfully.

In fact, I'd call this film a triumph in every department-- the cinematography (in CinemaScope, which the filmmakers were forced to use and found ways to exploit) is precise, the lighting evocative. And some surprisingly avant sound design moments underscore the rising sense of tension; it sounds like somebody had some fun with some analog delay effects to achieve the film's atmosphere.

But it's in the edit where I'd say the film really shines. Working closely with director Clayton, editor Jimmy Ware assembled a series of dissolves-- mini-montages, really-- which benefit greatly from the care that Clayton and cinematographer Freddie Francis took in shooting the source material. These dream-like passages help greatly in establishing the film's ghostly, lyrical tone.

Clayton apparently wanted to create a Gothic sensibility in opposition to that of the Hammer films currently in vogue-- this project was not to be shock-oriented, but far subtler. Indeed, we often see an actor's reaction to an apparition first, then the apparition itself-- a reverse of the usual order.

In short, an understated masterpiece. Recommended if you like your horror low-key and psychological.

imdb listing

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