Movie review: ‘Innocence’ is harmless teen fluff

09/04/2014 12:00 AM

09/03/2014 1:30 PM

You’re seeing visions of ghosts. You’re hearing voices chanting in Latin. You’ve lost your mother, and dad’s promptly taken up with the school nurse. And you suspect someone or something is killing students at this exclusive private girls school you’ve just enrolled in.

You’d think a girl would get a little emotional over all that, maybe worked up. Hysteria and panic could be expected.

Not in the way Sophie Curtis (“Arbitrage”) plays pretty, pouty Beckett in the film version of “Innocence,” based on a novel by Jane Mendelsohn. A stylish, moody and atmospheric tale contorted into a young adult horror story, it never works up a decent fright. And Curtis never for one second makes us believe the high stakes that her character supposedly faces. It’s as if both character and actress have been medicated into dullness.

Beckett (Curtis) loses her mother to a surfing accident in the opening scene. That’s why novelist/dad Miles (Linus Roache) relocates them to New York. And that’s how Beckett winds up in the tony Hamilton Prep, a private school where the students are all mean girls, the teachers are all gorgeous, and the mothers, alumni and even the school nurse (Kelly Reilly) seem to have just given up the runway.

“Careful, we’re all sick here,” she’s warned.

So Beckett broods, keeps her eyes down, and ignores the voices, the odd scary vision of a ghost in her closet or of a carpet turning to blood right beneath her feet. Typical teen, right?

A classmate kills herself right in front of her, and the odd “Better escape while you can” wisecrack takes on a more sinister meaning. What happens to the girls here, why is virginity so closely monitored, and is Beckett in danger?

Strip out the occasional ghost-faced jolt and “Innocence” plays like a somber, moody TV movie about somber, moody teens. It’s a thriller where director/co-writer Hilary Brougher put all the care into creating atmosphere through casting and filming in a muted, blue-and-gray color palette.

But thrills? Not even in the blood-stained finale.

What works are the realistic, unforced depictions of budding friendship with the sometimes tactless Jen (Sarah Sutherland), and budding curious romance with the cute Tobey (Graham Phillips). These kids flirt through skateboarding lessons and shared playlists, give each other bellybutton piercings and generally stay out of trouble.

Maybe it’s because almost all of them seem to be in the care of a psychotherapist (Sarita Choudhury). Maybe it’s the medications Nurse Pamela (Reilly) is giving out.

And maybe the alumni “book club” that keeps meeting and meeting is the source of all the weirdness.

First scene to last, Curtis shows only her poker face. No sign of alarm when the nurse ingratiates herself into her widowed dad’s life, thus keeping a closer eye on Beckett. No sense of urgency to the clues she starts to put together. And apparently she just shrugs off every nightmare, every waking moment when ghosts, in school uniform, appear to her as if to guide her search.

Sadly, that lack of urgency hangs over the entire film, a draggy 90 minutes or so which no finale can transform into something scary. Young love and muted colors convey all the “Innocence” you’d want. It’s losing that innocence that fails here.

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