The Innocents, 2021.
Directed by Eskil Vogt.
Starring Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Rakel Lenora Fløttum, and Ellen Dorrit Petersen.
Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) move to a new Nordic suburb with their parents. Over the course of a summer they start to befriend local children, who each have supernatural powers. As some of the children use their talents to do unspeakable things, the future of the local community hangs in the air.
Within the genre of horror comes a well-defined weight of expectation. Audiences want more — more drama, more gore, more heightened and unexpected outcomes. In stark contrast to offering the world on a silver spoon, Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents makes viewers work for the proposed payoff. As supernatural children and a taste to kill are thrown into the mix, the overall effect somewhat middles, in danger of becoming an intriguing premise that’s forgettable in the wider canon.
For those that take a natural dislike to children, The Innocents could be a perfect cinematic fit. With an ensemble of numerous kids, only one resembles something of a likeable character — the sweet and endearing Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), who uses her telekinesis to give a voice to those who have had theirs stripped away. While her presence in the film’s narrative is a breath of fresh air, it does little to balance out an overall emotional empathy in favour of the little tikes. As the film begins, Ida effortlessly embodies a natural torturer, testing her sister’s physical tolerance before moving onto nearby animals and surroundings. It’s only when she meets Ben (Sam Ashraf) that her antics pale into comparison, outmanoeuvred by his psychic ability to make others carry out heinous tasks. From this point, it’s a egotistical contest of who can out-sadist the others, culminating in a conclusion that flies under the radar.
The drama at the fore of the action does raise interesting questions. Before even venturing into the subtext of the plot, there’s something undeniably uncomfortable in the casting of Alva Brynsmo Ramstad as Anna. While her performance is stellar and her own mental health status unknown, it’s clear Ramstad doesn’t share the same severe physical behaviours as Anna. Casting an actor who is autistic could have been a more considered call, staying away from controversies like Maddie Ziegler’s role in Music. The rest of the cast are exceptional for such a young age, rounding out the narrative subtleties to keep the context compelling. Though fleeting in use, the adults are the driving force of the overall environment, prompting viewers to ask if people can truly be born evil, or are entitled to become heinous products of their own surroundings.
Set in a brooding Nordic countryside, the ominous feel that any horror should encapsulate is fiercely present. As dialogue is sparse and smartly used, it’s the visuals that do most of the talking, the separate sanctuaries of each character revealing a multitude of information. There isn’t much in the way of planting the dramatic seed, as plot points feel few and far between. Though The Innocents is undoubtedly impactful visually and thematically, there’s not much else to grab onto. Many facts of life and parental interactions are explored superficially, with nothing delved into enough detail to provide a meatier hook. Its end result is admittedly predictable, closing out a drama that showed an abundance of promise with little fanfare.
More so than an enjoyable experience or satisfying horrific thrill, The Innocents serves as strictly food for thought. Offering an intellectual takeaway under the guise of dramatic thrills, Vogt’s handle on the intersections of horror and childhood unarguably hold an addictive sense of intrigue. Falling short in its execution, there’s still plenty to be taken from its 117 minute runtime.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Jasmine Valentine – Follow me on Twitter.