It’s an overcast, but beautiful, beach day. The outdoorsy Rebecca “Beckett” Warner (Sophie Curtis) happily goes surfing with her mother Lena (Kelly Bensimon) as her father Miles (Linus Roache), an author, admires from the shore.
But an aneurysm strikes Lena as sudden as lightning. She falls off her board and into the water, never to surface.
So begins Hilary Brougher’s“Innocence,” a relatively short and sweet movie featuring lovely cinematography and a modest but well-casted, set of actors. There’s enough sincerity in the screenplay, and the setup is wonderful.
Four months later, Beckett and Miles must start a new life in the beating heart of Manhattan, far removed from their quaint beach cottage. “It’s for the best,” Miles reassures.
Beckett lays down to fall asleep on the first night in the new apartment, but city lights spill into her room. Miles sits on the bed beside her. “Isn’t this nice?” he asks. “It never gets dark here.”
“But I like the dark.”
“This is for the best, honey.” A goodnight kiss.
At her new, prestigious all-girls preparatory school, every pair of eyes falls on her. They gaze. They analyze. They judge. The poor girl; this is all too much to bear after her mother's tragic death. Even the teachers, counselors, and other staff are strange.
Luckily, she finds a friend in the quirky Jen Dunham (Sarah Sutherland), but even her mother Ava (Perrey Reeves) still has demons haunting her. Beckett finds romance in skater boy Tobey Crawford (Graham Phillips), whose mother Natalie (Stephanie March) oh-so-just happens to be one of the aforementioned strange adults at school. Poor Beckett; does she ever catch a break?
But the spell of a lovely coming-of-age story is broken by cheap thrills. Among them: the cliché medicine cabinet mirror trick, people who turn their heads creepily slowly, and the act of opening doors you’re not supposed to (and have no reason to!). The enjoyable movie is a round hole, but the thrills and scares are square pegs.
Later on, the darker side of the narrative slowly emerges and intertwines with Beckett’s character development. She begins to notice an odd pattern of happenings (a.k.a. cheap scares), a suicide, a murder-mystery, and the strange personalities of the adult women. Even the school nurse, Pamela Hamilton (Kelly Reilly) seems to be getting a little too close with her alcoholic father.
Trouble literally and figuratively creeps into Beckett’s home. The safety of her father, her friends and herself are at stake. If only we had known that earlier, when all those little pieces detracted from the movie instead of enhancing it.
But the pieces are all there. Director of photography David Rush Morrison composes visual poetry as lighting and color gorgeously synthesize, and textures pop. Solid performances all around transport us beside these characters. The writing is solid.
It’s a great movie to get completely lost in. But which movie? “Innocence” tries to be two movies at once. And when they finally work together instead of against one another, it’s far too late.
Poor Beckett. That girl deserved better.
This article originally appeared in Neon Tommy on September 6, 2014.