Questions arise almost immediately in French director Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Gothic fairy tale, and they exponentially multiply as each minute of screen time goes by. Why, exactly, do new arrivals at an all-girls boarding school show up in unvarnished coffins? Where does older student Bianca (Hauberge) go every night when she trods down a nearby wooded path? Why are biology and ballet the only subjects offered to these prepubescents, and just what is going on between the gimpy science teacher (Cotillard) and the dance instructor (De Fougerolles)? And does anyone think that the filmmaker will fill in the blanks before the final credits?
Abandon hope, all ye who enter seeking expository clarification and concrete answers to Innocence's riddles; Hadzihalilovic has apparently soaked in enough screenings of Polanksi's greatest hits and Picnic at Hanging Rock to realize that dread doesn't always require a direct explanation. What her film lacks in specifics, however, it makes up for with atmospherics and a suffocating uneasiness regarding what gets lost along the way from girlhood to fertile womanhood (metamorphosis and water symbology abound). The director's lapses into art-house self-indulgence occasionally grind the proceedings to a stultifying standstill—we could do without the lengthy ballet sequences, Lucile—but the eerie residue of Innocence's estrogenic body-horror is hard to shake off. If the movie's coquettish heroines view their children's paradise as an inescapable prison, what lies on the other side is even scarier. (Now playing; Cinema Village.)—David Fear