In most film productions, film editing is meant to be as seamless as possible. The edits are supposed to be logical and aren’t supposed to attract attention to themselves or the process of putting a film together. This system is called “continuity editing.” Most of the films you watch will be edited with this method. It’s only the rare film that is edited in a different way, and only then it’s usually an independent or art house film which uses editing more than just as a tool to create the overall film.
Innocent, by contrast, doesn’t have editing at all, unless you count the way the credits have been stitched onto the story part of the film. The entire production has been shot in a single take. Innocent plays for somewhere around 90 minutes and there isn’t a single cut — hidden or apparent — during this time. Alfred Hitchcock had an illusion of a single-take film with Rope, but in reality there were eleven of them. Russian Ark, I believe, was the first feature-length film to be created with one camera and a single take.
So, if nothing else, Innocent works as a gimmick film. You watch it to say that you’ve now seen a 90-minute film without any editing. You now know that this is possible. And considering the film takes us through the streets of Chicago — miles and miles of them, actually; the film’s scope is rather impressive — you learn that it is indeed possible to create a film like this one without setting it in a rather enclosed environment. Innocent is something worth seeing just for this factor.
It is not, however, truly worth the time if you’re looking for a good story, strong characters, any sense of drama or tension, or good camerawork. If it had been stitched together in a conventional manner, it would be up there with some of the least interesting films around. Obviously there were many limitations put on the filmmakers because of the style in which they chose to create the movie, but you have to think that they could have come up with something more interesting than this.
The story: Ashley (Alexa Vega) gets kidnapped by a couple of men and driven around Chicago for 90 minutes. At one point she tries to escape. That’s the entirety of Innocent. Ashley cries a bit, pleads for her freedom, and eventually runs for what seems like miles while being chased. The two men say they need money and slowly reveal why — although it’s not entirely clear if their reasoning is true or a lie — and then continue to say “we need the money” for the rest of the film.
A couple of secondary characters get involved for a couple of minutes, but it’s mostly just these three people driving or running in Chicago. If the characters were compelling maybe this would be okay. If the dialogue was tolerable to listen to, perhaps we wouldn’t grow tired of this situation after a few minutes. Do you know why most films jump forward in time after criminals kidnap someone off the streets? It’s because they’re generally not going to have good conversations with their victims. You can’t get much beyond “let me go” responded with “shut up.”
I’m sure the idea is that this is how it would realistically be. Innocent is purportedly based on a true story, and it certainly gives off the appearance that this is how it would go down in reality. All the glamour and thrills are removed. And while this works as an experiment and an impressively crafted film, it doesn’t make for good entertainment. Innocent isn’t exactly boring, but it’s only actually exciting as soon as Ashley makes a break for it, and that only happens in the last twenty minutes or so.
Still, I can’t even begin to think of how tough a shoot one like this had to be. It was reportedly rehearsed for a couple of weeks before being filmed once a day for a week, with the best take being picked for the finished product. How precise did everyone have to be? The cameraman, in particular, has to do so much moving, including long sections of running, that he or she must have been in tremendous shape. The same goes for Alexa Vega, who has to run faster and further than the cameraman — after having had her shoes removed — and she has to stay in character while doing it. In fact, everyone staying in character for 90 minutes is pretty impressive in its own right.
There are points when the one-take style hurts the film. In order for makeup — for the few times a character gets bloody — needs to be applied, the camera has to wander away and follow a seemingly unimportant character for a while. It’s noticeable and distracting because we know exactly why the camera isn’t following the main action.
Innocent might not be a good film in the conventional sense. It’s not terribly exciting, it features so many moments of repetition. The dialogue is as simple and uninteresting as it can get. The characters are shallow. There’s the bare minimum of plots. But you know what? I recommend it. The fact that it was shot in a single take makes it impressive that the film was even made. This is filmmaking you don’t see often. You want a stripped-down kidnapping movie that feels as realistic as a movie can be? Here you go.