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Innocence (2014)
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by Jay Seaver

"Welcome to the Bathory school."
3 stars

The concept that "Innocence" plays with is an old one, but that's the way it is with a lot of movies: Whether you're talking about vampires, possession, or any of the other great horror concepts, they can be re-used because there's plenty of room to continue examining them; they're descended from something primal. Such is the case here; the filmmakers are doing a slick update of a horror story that doesn't get as much play as it used to.

Four months ago, the mother of Beckett Warner (Sophie Curtis) died from a freak aneurysm; now she and father Miles (Linus Roache) are moving into New York City, where Miles's publisher Natalie (Stephanie March) has secured Beckett a spot in a prestigious girls' school. There, she makes the acquaintance of students Sunday Wilson (Chloe Levine), Jen Dunham (Sarah Sutherland), and Chloe Murray (Annie Q.), as well as principal Moira Neal (Liya Kebede), nurse Pamela Hamilton (Kelly Reilly), and therapist Vera Kent (Sarita Choudhury), and it's not long before she gets the inkling that there is something very peculiar going on.

Innocence is freely adapted from Jane Mendelsohn's novel by director Hilary Brougher and co-writer Tristine Skyler, an interesting filmmaker though not a prolific one - this is her third film, with her first, The Sticky Fingers of Time, released in 1999. All have been built around women's perspectives, with this one featuring just one or two make characters of any consequence compared to almost a dozen girls and women. Brougher signals where the story is going to go fairly early on in an English Literature lecture, and but soon starts twisting the idea of a young woman's value being tired to her "purity" around. It's not the most revolutionary or subversive take on the concept, but it's played out with a broad enough cast of characters that nobody is forced into being an archetype and there's even room for some black humor in a spot or two.

Brougher and her team do a very nice job of creating the right atmosphere, too; she and cinematographer David Rush Morrison find knowingly Gothic angles to New York City - the shot of the Warners' apartment building with a great big moon over it is kind of delightful - without quite making it campy. They get right up to the border in other areas, particularly with the sexed-up faculty and an unrepentantly pulpy finale, but Brougher has a good sense of the line between having fun with horror tropes and making fun of them. She's not above a good jump scare, and occasionally uses them as much to move the story forward as opposed to filling a scary-moment quota.

Sometimes, that's a bit of a weakness; while the writers do a decent job of establishing Beckett as curious and determined enough to want to figure out what's going on at the school even before they drop a heck of a motivator on her, it occasionally feels like she's being led to a solution rather than finding one and passing out or going to bed early a lot more than I remember being the case with my high-school classmates. Sophie Curtis therefore winds up doing her best work between the plot-advancing scenes, whether it be learning to skateboard with a new boyfriend or not liking some woman getting her class into Miles at all. She just doesn't get the chance to really give her heroine a personality the way that the other young actors - Sarah Sutherland, Chloe Levine, and Graham Phillips (playing said boyfriend who is probably the movie's most active male character) - do despite having less time to do so.

There is some fun being had among the adults, though, most notably Kelly Reilly, who walks the line between "believable as a concerned school nurse" and "insidious seductress" with flair, making a simple-seeming part that for bigger than it appeared to be one of the movie's highlights. Stephanie March, Sarita Choudhury, and Liya Kebede aren't quite as flamboyant, but they all have moments to remember, as does Perrey Reeves as Jen's definitely weird mother. Linus Roache also manage a good juggling act as the father, since both the themes and the story require him to be kind of clueless as to what's going on with his daughter without seeming a completely oblivious idiot.

Looking at the list of things I like about the movie, I wonder if the filmmakers may have been well-served to go a more overtly tongue-in-cheek route throughout, although I must admit to being glad they take the material at least somewhat seriously rather than making a joke out of it. From the perspective of someone admittedly closer demographically to the clueless dad than the film's heroines and target audience, "Innocence" is a bit of a flawed piece, although at least interestingly-conceived and well-crafted enough to deserve a higher profile than it received.

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originally posted: 09/09/14 12:33:40
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  05-Sep-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 03-Mar-2015


  DVD: 03-Mar-2015

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