Jack Clayton’s The Innocents

What is it about black and white films that is somehow just inherently creepier than the rest? Daylight seems eerie, anything could be a shadow and spectral presences are easier to hide in any given frame. Jack Clayton’s The Innocents is a frightening, beautiful piece of Victorian Gothic horror that’s subtle in all the right places, baroque when it needs to be and very unsettling, especially from an auditory standpoint. Deborah Kerr plays a young governess who travels from London to the countryside to look after two children in a large Manor, which of course is haunted and causing the youngsters to behave very.. strangely. Now this is of course the source material for Netflix’s brilliant Haunting Of Bly Manor and I don’t want to go too deep into comparison except to say that I greatly enjoyed both, Bly is a nine hour television series and naturally has way more depth in supporting characters and subplots, but it’s more of a love story while Innocents is the scarier of the two and works splendidly as a horror. It’s indeed very scary but not in terms of jump scares, leering ghouls or your usual brand of madness. Practiced in the art of subtlety, this film uses stark black and white photography to unsettle as the acrid marshlands and ornate, breezy corridors of the house yawn open for whatever spectral denizens lurk unseen. Sound design is key here too and should be applauded: in my favourite sequence, Kerr wanders the halls at night and hears some incredibly spooky whispers, moans, clanks and wheezes all around her. There’s something so evocative and iconic about a beautiful blonde Victorian girl, hair down, nightgown flowing, holding a candelabra and wandering the darkened halls of a vast haunted estate, its its own aesthetic. There’s another scene I loved in which she stands at the edge of a boggy pond and gazes over to the other side where the ghost of a former governess stands hauntingly still among the reeds, gazing back. It’s done in broad daylight and adorned in a hectic symphony of jagged sounds and is just so damn unnerving I had to rewind it and watch again just for double spook factor. I wasn’t quite sure what was implied by the ending of this but I enjoyed the note of ambiguity present in its conclusion, like the air being sucked out of the room abruptly or the night wind robbing a candle of its glow with one hoarse gust. This is a gorgeous, macabre, aesthetically pleasing horror gem.

-Nate Hill

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.