Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 94 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. The film is about a high school student who determines that something evil and supernatural is going on at her high school and targeting her fellow female students; virginity plays a central role in that scheme, as staying “pure” makes the teens more attractive to those preying on them. There is the slight suggestion that abstinence-only education is bad, but it’s not really explicit here. Some kissing and suggested sexual activity, both for teen couples and parents; some language and discussion of drug use; a girl receives a DIY bellybutton ring; some teens commit suicide; and there are various stabbings, slashings, and murders, as well as visions of corpses and nightmares.
The young-adult-novel adaptation ‘Innocence’ is a dreary attempt at teen horror, all muted visuals and unmemorable characters.
By Roxana Hadadi
You know a movie is boring when not even a subplot about sex can enliven things—and romance is practically a sure thing! Watching attractive people fall in love onscreen kept romantic comedies alive for decades and is an essential part of the current onslaught of teen-focused dramas (“Twilight,” “The Hunger Games,” “Divergent,” etc.), and although it’s just as important to the plot of “Innocence,” the movie just can’t make it work. Nothing about this film is compelling, even as it picks and chooses normally attention-grabbing things to incorporate: teen suicide, teen virginity, even DIY teen body piercings. There is actually a sacrificial-virgin scene, and not even that was exciting! The boringness of this movie is mind-boggling.
Adapted from the same-named YA novel by Jane Mendelsohn, the film is directed and co-written impressively unremarkably by Hilary Brougher, who coats everything in murky blues and greys and provides a script that oozes with oddly zealous homoeroticism. Of course, a movie about witches who prey on the blood of underage girls will inherently have strange interactions between those two groups, but how Mendelsohn stages them—heavy flirtation from the former group, tranquil acceptance from the latter group—makes it even more outlandish. Overall, “Innocence” veers between monotonously bland and disconcertingly campy without enthusiastically going toward one or the other, and the mix never settles.
The film focuses on teenager Beckett (Sophie Curtis), whose mother dies of a brain aneurysm during a surfing accident close to their palatial home in Montauk; four months later, Beckett and her famous novelist father Miles (Linus Roache, of “Non-Stop”) decide to move to Manhattan for what he promises her will be a “fresh start.” After settling in a beautifully opulent apartment, Miles announces that he’s enrolled Beckett in the prestigious all-girls school Hamilton, which is surrounded by beautiful greenery, has its own garden, and is designed in a classically Greek style. Lots of paintings of cherubs, lots of statues of women, lots of busts of ancient goddesses … do you sense a theme here?
There are other instantly noticeable things, too, like how all the teachers are willowy, beautiful model types—including the school nurse Pamela (Kelly Reilly, of “Heaven is for Real”), descended from the creator of the school—and how the alumni all stick together—including Miles’s book agent, Natalie (Stephanie March), whose son, Tobey (Graham Phillips), catches Beckett’s eye. And most chilling is the school’s history of violence: a girl kills herself in front of Beckett on her first day by stepping over the school’s roof, and soon Beckett starts seeing visions of her and other dead girls who are asking for her help, whispering in Latin, and generally doing creepy ghost stuff. What do they want from Beckett? How did they die? And what does Hamilton as an institution have to do with it?
There is a clannish, secretive nature to all the adults in the school, and soon their well-meaning nature transforms into overbearing omnipresence. Pamela immediately starts dating Beckett’s father and practically moves into their apartment, lounging around in increasingly skimpy outfits and inserting herself between Beckett and her father, further straining their tense relationship. There’s a psychiatrist who prescribes Beckett medicine to help her sleep, but it seems like all the girls at the school are supposedly suffering from the same mysterious medical issue—and given the same pills with the same personality-dulling effects. And then there’s all the talk about “virtue” and “value,” the school’s encouragement of abstinence, and the speech Pamela gives Beckett about how “if you rush into something that should be so beautiful, it can turn ugly.” Is this a prep school or a cult?
Maybe some of this would have been compelling with a better lead actress, but Curtis often seems totally lost here, veering only between an aloof monotone and a cutesy whisper. To be fair, the script often keeps Beckett’s character drugged or otherwise under duress, but Curtis brings no energy or personality of her own to the part; you won’t have any idea of who Beckett really is no matter how many times you watch “Innocence.” And there’s also the problem of why Beckett is so important in the first place; Pamela says things to her like “I want you to know that you will be with me forever, but for what reason? There’s no case made for her allure, and a reveal in the final seconds of the film that could provide an additional layer for her characterization is idiotically handled.
Ultimately “Innocence” is a movie that has lines like “It’s Pamela and Book Club—they’re trying to kill me, Tobey!” Try not to laugh at that! The film’s refusal to either take itself seriously and develop some complex characters and legitimate motivations, or to go full-on satirical camp and attack the abstinence-only movement, is its fundamental undoing. It can’t do both, and its failure to commit to either makes “Innocence” thoroughly forgettable.
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