First of all, sticking to source material is always a good idea. The film did, on paper, stick pretty close to the story. The names are the same, and the ghosts have similar backstories. I don’t know that I would end it the same as the novella, but I would certainly make some changes.
I think the film was trying to center around Miles. The most unsettling scenes feature him. That’s why he should have been in it more. Maybe have even been the central character. If they’re already changing the story, then go ahead and change it even more. Kate sees the ghost of Quint once in a while, and in the original story apparently he’s supposed to be haunting Miles, or have influence over him. They sort of touch on that in this, and shows that Kate wants to get the kids out of the house so the ghosts can’t hurt them…I guess. But if having Quint, someone Miles respected and looked up to, as a ghost influence Miles, why then was the kid introduced as already being dangerous? I guess you could say he’s dealing with grief, but if we’re supposed to be seeing changes, there are none in Miles. That’s not an effect that the ghost is having on him over time. Now right off the bat when he returns from school, he could have said something about Quint telling him to fight other kids, and then we learn later that Quint is in fact dead.
Also, when she’s trying to drive them into town, and Flora freaks out, I guess Kate completely forgot that the girl saw the car accident right outside of the gate that killed her parents. As an educator of kids, I thought maybe she’d get the idea that the girl doesn’t want to visit the spot her parents died. But what do I know? Instead of that scene, which amounted to nothing, wouldn’t it have been even more unsettling if Flora was fine? Kate brings her there expecting the girl to be utterly terrified of the gate, but instead she’s perfectly calm, maybe even giddy. That would have been truly creepy.
Then there’s the deal with the previous governess, Jessel. We see at the very beginning of the movie that something prevents her from leaving. The way it’s executed is not impacting whatsoever, because it’s a character we don’t know or care about, and there’s no scary or startling imagery. Instead, she should have just been mentioned, no pictures, no name even, just mentioned. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: what you don’t see can be scarier than what you do see.
Another part of the film that made no sense was having creepy stuff that amounted to nothing (there are a lot of things in this film that amount to nothing!). The creepy statue of the grandmother could have gone somewhere, but nope. Instead of random hands crawling all over Kate, they could have been Mile’s spiders. But nope. One of Flora’s dolls could have been popping up in random places, and looked a lot like Kate, maybe with an eye missing and blood on her face. Nope.
The ghost of Quint was supposed to be a villain in some respects, or you suppose he is. He does basically nothing, just kind of shows up at the end and it’s implied he and Jessel had a relationship, or that he took advantage of her…honestly I got both impressions, this movie was so incoherent. If they were to go the route of making him a villain, then of course he should have been in it more. But his presence has to be compelling and off-putting. Instead, because the audience has so many questions, it’s hard to feel anything.
People should want to ask questions in a story, but the quality lies in why we are asking questions. This movie has all the wrong motivations for what we want to know. The film does produce some intrigue, but as it drags on, the intrigue turns into boredom. This film could have been fixed in many different ways, but instead it’s failed on many levels. While it’s fun to think of different ways someone could have saved a story, it’s unfortunate when said movie has been released as a finished project already, and it has no business being such.