Ghosts+Psychosis=BFFL (Review of The Innocents)

Someone asked me the other day what separates horror and thriller.  It’s hard to say, really.  The line is super blurry and, honestly, I think it’s just something each individual has to feel.  I would say, on a whole, the thrillers are almost never supernaturally based (horrors can be both natural and supernatural) and that the point of a horror is to produce a feeling of horror, terror, fear, disgust, etc. whereas the point of a thriller is to present and interesting, if somewhat frightening/pulse quickening, dramatic scenario.  I suppose you could possibly say that horror is a more visceral genre and thrillers are a more cerebral genre.  But, again, that’s all in the eye of the beholder.  A film I find just interesting and dramatic another might find absolutely terrifying.  The reason I bring that point up is because I’m not sure if I would consider The Innocents a horror film.  I’m not just being a snob towards older movies in favor of the flashier, faster, overt films of today.  I, in fact, LOVE subtle slow burn horrors and think they need to make a resurgence.  So, it’s not a lack of gore or overtness that makes me say I’m not sure it’s a horror, it’s just a feeling.  I felt more suspense and curiosity than I did fear or nervousness.

That being said, I loved this film.  I’ll admit that I’m a bad little English major and have not read The Turn of the Screw, but considering that I almost always find written versions better than film versions, I have to get on that.  The Innocents is creepy, compelling, and disturbing.  It is a slow burn in the extreme.  If you were to ask what happened in this film, I could give it to you in just a few words: new governess sees ghosts, thinks her charges are possessed, ends up killing one of them.  That’s really about it.  The incidental moments are not big huge things – there’s a sighting of a ghost by the lake, a weird recital of a poem by the little boy, and the overall creepiness of the kids in general.

That's not creepy...

Nope...not at all...

What I love love LOVE about this film though is its masterful play off of ghosts vs. insanity.  On the one hand, the kids are creepy as fuck and seriously off in some way.  It’s not really that much of a stretch to believe they’re possessed; personally, I might have thought by Satan rather than some random ghosts, but whatevs.  On the other hand, they are super neglected, abandoned orphan children who probably have some SERIOUS issues that need to be worked out by a child psychologist, thus making them seem possessed/evil.

Umm...do you have some sugar I could borrow?

By the same token, the sanity of the governess, Miss Giddons, our main character, is constantly brought into question.  We see the ghosts she sees; we are visually privileged to get the creepiness that she experiences.  But, we are also seeing everything from her POV.  So, just because we too see the ghosts doesn’t mean they’re there; it just means she’s seeing them.

Ahhh the awkward pedophile kiss...a staple in any good ghost story

And she is pretty whack.  Her strange attachment to the kids, or, in fact, ANY kids, verges on the pedo, especially when she actually gets kissed by the little boy (and doesn’t pull away right away).  Her instant puritanical obsession with the love/sex story of the two dead folks is a bit too “wow someone has some repression issues”.  So, it’s just not that much of a stretch to believe that she could just be losing what few marbles she had left.

Sure, the play between reality and insanity is a trope used in horror over and over again, but it’s just done so well in The Innocents that it doesn’t feel cliché or old.  It just feels awesome and compelling.  Again, is it horror?  I don’t really know.  My gut really says it’s really a psychological thriller.  Sure, there’s the element of the possible supernatural, in the way of the ghosts, but it’s so subtle and understated that it almost feels like it’s a side thought; the point is the mental struggle that Miss Giddons goes through, be it real or all in her head.  I don’t think it really matters though – it’s a damn good film and well worthy of being on people’s top horror movies to see.   If you like subtle, slow burning, and just sort of…quietly creepy, you will like this film.  If you do decide to check it out, it is on Netflix watch instantly, if you have it, so…yay rah for that.

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