Book adaptations are usually good bets in the film industry, because their installed audiences typically guarantee predictable box office returns. For books in the Young Adult genre, those audiences are usually legion. Despite that, there is still a bare minimum a film has to offer to be considered worth any audience’s time and money, fans of the source material or not. Innocence fails to meet that standard. As a film, it lacks some basic storytelling conventions that modern audiences have come to expect. And considering how loose and disjointed much of the film feels, it’s doubtful that fans of the book will leave satisfied.
Based on the novel by Jane Mendelsohn, Innocence is about a young, teenage girl named Beckett Warner (Sophie Curtis), who moves to an elite Manhattan preparatory school after her mother passes away suddenly. As soon as she arrives, Beckett begins to experience paranormal activity, like seeing ghostly figures of other students. To make matters worse, she witnesses one of her classmates kill herself right in front of her. Beckett seeks solace with a friendly male student, Tobey (Graham Phillips), as well as with the adult staff at the school, which is composed solely of beautiful women. Becket forms a relationship with the school nurse, Pamela (Kelly Reilly), but she seems more interested in Beckett’s father, Miles (Linus Roache). As Beckett’s visions become more and more intense, however, she discovers the school’s dark secret, and must expose it before more students die.
The most glaring problem with Innocence is that it leaves too many gaps in the story that require audiences to fill with their knowledge of the book or with their own imagination. For instance, as soon as Beckett moves into her new home in Manhattan, even before visiting the school, she sees the specter of a female student in her closet. But it’s never explained if her house is haunted or why this vision and the future visions are only shown to Beckett. Furthermore, Beckett never announces to anyone that she’s seeing things, which leads audiences to think that she’s prepared for such supernatural events and that she is somehow special, but the film never explains this.
Basic storytelling conventions dictate that the main character is important to the story in a meaningful way. While this is most likely handled appropriately in the book, the film version of Innocence leaves audiences groping blindly for understanding. The antagonists at the school require virgin blood for their nefarious deeds, but the film also has them focusing on Beckett as their next victim. Yet it’s never explained why they want Beckett in particular. With a school full of virgins, surely the bad guys have their pick. Furthermore, why didn’t they open up a school for elementary students instead of high schoolers? It would almost certainly eliminate any chance that any student had lost their virginity. Instead, the film presents a story that requires the variables to be what they are, without educating audiences why.
Presentation is subpar throughout and the actors all give overly subdued performances. Perhaps there were budget limitations or other production realities that prevented the film from achieving its potential, but, whatever the case, director Hilary Brougher doesn’t make the most of her resources. From using dark lenses to simulate night to day players whose performances weren’t kept in check, Innocence has an unnecessary cheap feeling to it that could have been avoided with a little more attention and dedication. She was also unable to tease out more poignant performances from her cast. The bad guys never truly feel like a malevolent force. Beckett never truly feels like she’s terrified or overcoming her fear. And audiences never truly feel transported into another reality.
A few parts are handled well and deserve mentioning. Beckett’s romance with Tobey is cute, albeit somewhat forced given the context surrounding Beckett’s life. Nevertheless, it’s in these moments that the film is at its best, with its actors doing what seems completely natural and actually enjoying their roles. The scary parts of the film are also serviceable, with adequately perturbing dream sequences and startling jump scares. Unfortunately, these highlights aren’t enough to save the film and the level of quality exhibited during these parts don’t carry through anywhere else.
Never having read the book, it’s still obvious that Innocence had the potential to be a satisfying coming-of-age story that many young women could relate to. It features the discovery of sexuality, independence and the competition of other females taken to the nth degree. It’s too bad that the book didn’t get the production it deserved and that fans no doubt wanted to see.