Dir. Eskil Vogt (2022)
Sometimes those who look the most innocent can be the most dangerous, as we find out in this thriller about children with mysterious powers.
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS
During a summer vacation, a little Norwegian girl with some dark tendencies begins to explore the world outside of her family. She finds a boy with the power to move things with his mind, something that she desperately wants to do herself. Her patience is worn thin by her mentally disabled sister, who gets all of the attention from their parents. She lashes out by intentionally hurting her by pinching her and even putting broken glass in her shoes. She’s cruel, but it’s a child-like cruelty, one that is mean-spirited but ultimately harmless, the behaviors of someone who doesn’t fully comprehend the repercussions of her actions. She’s not the only cruel one, though, and we can’t help but think that things will eventually escalate from here.
The children make friends, as children are wont to do, and it is within these friendships that we discover the secret powers that these children have. It is not just the boy who can move things with his mind, but the autistic sister as well. Meanwhile, the evil-but-not-really sister and their new acquaintance have the power to communicate with their minds, a telepathic link that guides a lot of the rest of the film. There’s something dark behind all of this magic, though, a fact which begins to reveal itself over time and with which only we and the children are privy. I won’t go any further into the plot, because this is definitely one that you’ll want to watch for yourself, but suffice to say that dark only begins to describe most of this film.
The film is absolutely gorgeous, with some of the best cinematography I’ve seen from a more indie-minded film. It’s a beautiful film about terrible things, because sometimes it takes a really pretty lens to see the darkness inherent in a story. The child actors do an incredible job throughout the entirety of the film as well, each acting far beyond their years. Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, who plays autistic sister Anna, is incredible. As someone who has quite a bit of experience around kids with autism, she nails the role completely. I’ve already read an article about how the movie is problematic for casting a neurotypical actress as an autistic girl, but fuck that shit: she’s outstanding. Rakel Lenora Flottum, who plays cruel sister Ida, is also fantastic in her role. Hell, all the kids are, including Sam Ashraf as Ben and Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim as Aisha. Those names are a handful, but you better get to know them if you like foreign cinema, because they’re not going to stop getting work after their unforgettable performances in this film.
The film is just generally creepy as fuck, and its childlike psychological horror at its finest. The film has a very Ari Aster-like feel to it, with the supernatural powers of the children manifesting in sickening ways in the bright Scandinavian sunlight. The film is one of contrasts, between the darkness in plot and the light of day, the innocence of children with the evil of which they are capable. There is something to be said about the possibility of villainy and cruelty if everyone had the ability to do anything they wanted. With children, people who haven’t even fully developed their sense of morality yet, these possibilities are even more extreme. Director Eskil Vogt does an incredible job with The Innocents in exploring these possibilities, and I highly suspect that we’ll be seeing a lot more from him in the future. It takes a lot of skill to craft a film that is as disturbing as this one and a lot of balls to do so with children at the forefront, and this is exactly the kind of film that I love to show to others who share my tastes in cinema.
Who this movie is for: Foreign horror fans, Disturbing cinema lovers, Charles Xavier
Bottom line: Excellent from start to finish and the definition of a slow burn, The Innocents is the disturbing children-with-superpower movie you didn’t know you needed in your life, like if Brightburn was good enough for Cannes. Compelling, dark, and with a vicious mean streak, this one is not to be missed and will likely take a place on many top 10 lists for 2022 (maybe even mine!). Check it out for free on Shudder, as long as you don’t mind reading subtitles.