'Innocence': Film Review

High school has rarely appeared so deadly and so boring at the same time

Sophie Curtis co-stars alongside Kelly Reilly, Linus Roache and Sarita Choudhury in Hilary Brougher’s semi-suspenser.

With her third feature, writer-director Hilary Brougher reaches for an allegorical take on contemporary teen culture, but the film’s uneasy mixture of melodramatic and supernatural elements quickly devolves into a frequently risible genre mashup. Theatrical release appears to be a perfunctory prelude to potential ancillary opportunities.

Following the tragic drowning of her mother while surfing off Long Island, teenage Beckett (Sophie Curtis) and her father Miles (Linus Roache) relocate to Manhattan in an attempt to restart their lives. Still traumatized by the accident, Beckett experiences frightening hallucinations, but doesn’t mention them to her father. Miles, a popular novelist, enrolls his daughter in the exclusive Hamilton prep school, where she’s welcomed by Natalie (Stephanie March), a family friend who’s active in the school community, and looked after by the school nurse, kindly young Pamela (Kelly Reilly). Among her classmates, she meets laidback Jen (Sarah Sutherland) and slightly threatening Sunday (Chloe Levine), as well as Natalie’s cute teenage son Tobey (Graham Phillips).

Accepting Pamela's referral to school psychiatrist Dr. Kent (Sarita Choudhury) for counseling sessions only stresses Beckett out more. At the same time, Pamela is making frequent home visits to check up on Beckett and incidentally her father, eventually moving herself into Miles’ bedroom, to his daughter’s great discomfort and bewilderment. Even as she’s starting to feel a return to normalcy as her own relationship with Tobey blossoms, Beckett suffers a major setback after Sunday inexplicably kills herself, jumping off the school roof. Still experiencing awful nightmares and terrifying visions of dead Hamilton students, Beckett learns about several previous suicides at the school and begins to suspect that something seriously twisted is transpiring between the female staff and the student body.

Despite passing similarities to classics like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, Brougher’s script, adapted with Tristine Skyler from Jane Mendelsohn’s novel, initially adopts a fairly realistic tone, minimizing genre elements and instead emphasizing the conflicts between Beckett and the women who seem to be threatening her. Neither the narrative nor the characters are well-served by this essentially melodramatic structure, however. Curtis admirably holds her own with far more experienced castmembers, including a number who are  playing conspicuously below their potential.

In the end, outrageous third-act plot developments and second-rate special effects can’t boost the effort above the eminently absurd, but it’s unfortunate, since the outlines of a solid drama or provocative horror movie are clearly visible. The filmmakers appear unprepared to commit to either option, although having things both ways clearly diminishes the outcome. 

Production companies: Killer Films, John Wells Productions, Scion Pictures

Cast: Sophie Curtis, Kelly Reilly, Linus Roache, Graham Phillips, Sarah Sutherland, Annie Q., Stephanie March, Sarita Choudhury, Chloe Levine  

Director: Hilary Brougher

Screenwriters: Hilary Brougher, Tristine Skyler

Producers: Christine Vachon, Pam Koffler, Jane Mendelsohn

Executive producers: Ron Curtis, Nicholas Jarecki, Kevin Turen, Brian Young, Mike Heller, Justin Nappi, Mo Al Turki, Andrew Levitas, J.C. Khoury, Jonathan Cavendish

Director of photography: David Morrison

Production designer: Susan Block

Costume designer: Emma Potter

Editor: Keith Reamer

Music: Tomandandy

 

Rated PG-13, 96 minutes

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