Coming all the way from Norway is a wonderful genre-bending film called The Innocents. Written and directed by Eskil Vogt (Thelma, Blind), the film begins with two young girls moving into a new apartment complex with their parents during Summer break. As the children play and befriend other kids in the complex, something strange happens. The kids realize they have abilities they never had before. They soon discover that sometimes having power can be a dangerous thing.
Vogt is a master of combining drama, fantasy, and horror in a compelling way. The Innocents almost immediately sets up some disturbing behaviors with a couple of the children. They act out in inappropriate ways, partly because of their home life and partly because they are too young to understand the possible repercussions. This creates a clear divide between the children; those that use their abilities for fun and to be helpful versus those who choose to be destructive and violent. As their powers grow, so does the tension. The Innocents successfully addresses very serious themes that are too grown-up for the small band of misfit children, making the film all the more suspenseful and disturbing. Children on a regular day can get up to some unnerving activities, but if given telekinetic and telepathic abilities, there’s no telling how dangerous they could really be.
There are a few things to note that could potentially be deal breakers for certain audience members. First, there are a couple of scenes that feature violence towards animals. It is quite unsettling, especially since this violence is carried out by children. Normally this would also make me like a film less, but in this case it does serve the plot in how it exemplifies the fantasy world kids often live in and their lack of understanding when it comes to the very real consequences of their actions. I also want to warn viewers not to expect a “big reveal” as to how these kids got their powers. That isn’t the purpose of the story being told, and in fact, not once does the film discuss how the kids got their powers. In some cases this would bother me, but in the context of The Innocents, it doesn’t matter how their abilities came to be. It’s more important what happens once they have those abilities.
The small group of four children all deliver superb performances, many of them making their debut in The Innocents. Rakel Lenora Fløttum stars as Ida. She is the younger of the two girls who have just moved into the apartment complex. At first, Ida seems like a troublemaker, but Fløttum is great at showing her character’s growth throughout the film. Alva Brynsmo Ramstad plays Ida’s older sister, Anna. Anna is autistic and mostly non-verbal. While it seems Ramstad is not autistic in real life (as far as I could find online), which could raise some ethical questions regarding representation, I do understand why the filmmakers made that decision based on certain events in the film. Ramstad is wonderful in this role and delivers a striking performance. Sam Ashraf plays Ben, the first person to befriend Ida. Ashraf is absolutely haunting in this role as his character acts out some chilling tableaus while still, at times, maintaining a sense of childlike innocence. Then there is young Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim as Aisha. Aisha’s character acts as the moral compass, doing her best to make everyone happy and trying to keep the group from using their powers for evil. Asheim is a pure ray of sunshine in her portrayal of this character. Together, the four children act off of each other perfectly and have wonderful on-screen chemistry.
Much like Vogt’s previous films, The Innocents is a beautiful work of art. Making this film beautiful is quite a feat, especially taking into account the setting is primarily a large, concrete apartment complex surrounded by a wooded area. While the scenery itself might not be all that visually appealing, the filmmakers draw the eye in by creating many complex layers on screen. Within almost every shot are layers of things to look at in the foreground, mid-ground, and background. The viewer’s eye is constantly moving as it takes in every last detail so that nothing is missed. Since the children’s abilities come from their minds, there isn’t much need for a lot of effects. Yet there are still some great, small practical effects throughout the film. The climax of The Innocents also offers a very unique and intense view of a battle of the minds that is as unexpected as it is visually striking.
The Innocents takes a stunning and disturbing look at what happens when children too young to understand the world are given power beyond their comprehension. Vogt is a masterful storyteller that understands the importance of both a compelling plot as well as creating gorgeous imagery. The increasing sense of danger and dread makes for a great deal of suspense, while the childlike wonder of the kids maintains a vague sense of whimsy. It’s truly shocking that the four young leads are making their debut in The Innocents. Their performances are all excellent and make the film all the more enjoyable to watch. The Innocents is sure to be on many “best of 2022” lists.
OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10