The impressionable Miss Giddons is hired on by a rich Englishman as the governess to his unwanted niece and nephew, who are currently under the care of their witless housekeeper in a beautiful country estate. She quickly becomes enthralled by the two charming children and their idyllic home, but the seemingly perfect facade begins to fade away as Miss Giddons uncovers the deaths of the two previous tenants and the dark secrets that the children seem to be hiding. THE INNOCENTS is by far the strongest adaptation of Henry James' Turn of the Screw to date, and is easily comparable to the subtle psychological terrors illustrated in Robert Wise' THE HAUNTING. Deborah Kerr's incredible performance makes this one of the most frightening and complex ghost pictures in the genre. Her horrified expressions, fear, and paranoia emanate from the screen with a shocking realism. Striking visual metaphors can be found throughout the film, including a friendly cherub statue that Miss Giddons finds while gardening that is soiled by a cockroach that crawls from its mouth (just another instance that proves things are not always as they appear). Corruption, then, becomes a central theme, one which drives Kerr's suspicions as she obsessively questions the two mischievous children. Clayton purposely opens the film up to interpretation, without ever revealing whether Flora and Miles are playing some sort of monstrous game with a pair of maligned ghosts, or whether Miss Giddons has given in to her own paranoid delusion. The brief but chilling apparitions only add to the ambiguity, since neither of the children ever admit to having seen them. THE INNOCENTS has stood the test of time, and continues to terrify audiences nearly fifty years after its initial release.
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If you liked THE INNOCENTS, check out:
THE HAUNTING, THE OTHERS, THE OMEN.