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The Innocents (2016)

12 Minutes A Slave

With a subject deep rooted in the criminal slavery past of Argentinians latifundias (ranches), The Innocents is a bleaker, terser, better Crimson Peak, not that it required a masterpiece to top that particular movie anyway. As a Southern gothic it has all the trimmings and then some: a plantation dominated by a crual master and his pious wife, crually abused slaves, a concupiscent priest, whipping, forced abortion, a witch trial, a curse and the flames of hell, the works. It even starts when Inception ended, which is quite something for a period drama.

Some of it borders on the ludicrous : the camera climbs a lot of trees while a swing is used as a metaphor of freedom; a super duper one-eyed magical black woman delivers a child assisted by ghosts and dialogue goes “Have you seen my scapulary?”, but somehow these distractions do not manage to send the whole thing in camp territory, the reason being that the good offsets the bad.

Starting with a flashback during which a teenage slave boy lives and dies for 12 minutes in order to set the plot in motion, The Innocents is good at pointing how organised religion always found a way to remain in control until very recently, especially at the expense of more ancestral, paganistic antagonists. It is also good at positing the youngest son and his pregnant wife as the two titular innocents, both wearing green, on the mostly red backdrop of the plantation and its master, while what’s left of the servants wears neutral black and white. The filming includes some nice cuts and a keen eye for group scenes, two of them, the hanging and the end of the trial, have Fordian scope in their precise dramaturgy.

The performance of Logo Cruz as the agressive hobbit of a libidinous father is to be commended. There is so much hate bottled up in this tiny dictator that it’s seething through forced smiles and verbal abuse. He never loses an opportunity to diminish his son, because he has a limp, because he lives in the city, because he needs money to become an entrepreneur… chiefly, though, because he was born to live when his eldest died. Of course he tries to seduce Mercedes, his daughter in law, but it’s too late, as the wheels of a long held revenge has been set in motion so long ago.

The Innocents is an unforgiving movie and it ends on very dark notes, immersed as it is in racial issues, abuse and guilt. If a bit over the top at times, it knows what it has to say and the message, albeit not original in the slightest, is aptly delivered and generate some good scenes. You could chose far worse things to watch, should you feel in a gothic mood.

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