Director/writer Hilary Brougher creates a suitably gray and bleak atmosphere in “Innocence,” a haunted-school story based on the young-adult novel of the same name by Jane Mendelsohn. But there’s not much of a payoff, as this tepid film telegraphs its mild punches from several miles away.
Sophie Curtis (“Arbitrage”) is Beckett, a quiet girl whose big passion is surfing with her mom. After Mom dies unexpectedly while out on the waves, Dad (Linus Roche, “Vikings”) and Beckett pack up their old house – too many memories, presumably – and move into Manhattan, where she has to go to a new school, tony Hamilton Prep.
But there’s something odd about the women who run the place. All of them – including principal Moira Neal (Liya Kebede) – seem a little sedated and weirdly calm, like a cross between “The Stepford Wives” and someone just a few hours out of major surgery. How Dad, supposedly a famous and respected writer, and Sophie didn’t pick up on this and think, “You know, home-schooling really is a good option,” is perhaps the most obvious way in which “Innocence” strains credibility.
Of course, odd things start happening to Beckett, including seeing visions of two students who attended Hamilton years prior and died mysteriously. Her angst grows after a fellow student commits suicide – right in front of her and her father. Still, Beckett remains enrolled at the school.
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She finds it hard to make friends, except for Tobey (Graham Phillips), a guy she has a crush on, and Jen (Sarah Sutherland). All the other students, especially icy Chloe (Annie Q.), seem to be following in their teachers’ cold footsteps.
It doesn’t help that her father starts having a fling with the strange and intrusive school nurse, Pamela Hamilton (Kelly Reilly), who just happens to be part of the school’s founding family. Dad really isn’t very observant.
It’s up to Beckett to expose the mystery at Hamilton’s heart.
There’s nothing surprising in “Innocence”; it goes to all the expected places. The shocks are mild, so there’s not enough to satisfy horror fans. And the relationship between Beckett and Tobey is unremarkable, so those searching for a young-adult romance will also be left wanting.
“Innocence” ultimately lives up to its title, and not in a good way.