Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 3. 1962.
This is not to say that there are not moments when one is suddenly startled—even dishonestly. Two obvious examples spring to mind, both dependent on shock cutting. The first is when a close up of Miss Giddens' face is followed abruptly by a close up of Flora splashing in the bath, and the second is that time-worn but still favourite device, the windows that crash open suddenly with an inrush of wind and rain and a billowing of the curtains. (I wonder if this shock cutting is becoming a habit of British films—there were flagrant examples in The Angry Silence and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, for example.)
There are also some dissatisfyingly loose ends in the story line also—the animal cries of pain from the garden at odd times, the dove with the broken neck, and Miles' walking in the garden late at night "to make Miss Giddens think he can be bad for a change." Are these tied in with the main story or are they simply red herrings? And what happens to Flora when she drives away with Mrs. Grose after her attack of hysteria—does the apparition of Miss Jessel allow her to go quietly after all or will she follow? (and so on).
The fault that really breaks the picture's back though is the dialogue. James' story was told in diary form, and this has meant that practically all the conversations have had to be invented. This is all very well and unavoidable, but why did the speech have to be in such a stilted and unwieldy form? Even if Miles is being coached by an apparition, some of his Latin-structured sentences are so involved and unwieldy that he has to concentrate very hard just to get them out, let alone give any expression to them. The children's acting is, taken all round, unsatisfying—not because the characters display an unnatural knowingness (they should) but because the actors playing the characters display a smug awareness of their charade behind the facade.