While it doesn’t go for the horror jugular, “The Innocents” is a quiet but chilling arthouse thriller that promises to get under your skin.
Childhood can be full of wanton cruelty, lack of empathy, and poor judgment. Nowhere is that more on display than in Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents.
Vogt creates a harsh and unflinching look at the dangers of growing up and realizing your own power. The children in his film are “innocents” in that they don’t seem to know right from wrong or the impact and lasting effects of their decisions.
Newly moved, nine-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Flottum) and her mute autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) are exploring their new apartment building and meet Ben (Sam Ashraf) and Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bresmseth Asheim) and soon begin to realize that they have telepathic and telekinetic abilities.
What begins as harmless fun turns dark when Ben has darker and more violent tendencies than the rest of the group. Of course, in true horror movie fashion, things spiral from there.
The synopsis for this movie sounds like something horror viewers have seen a lot: a group gets together, the group discovers powers, one group member goes rogue, and the group must confront the rogue member in the climax of the film.
The difference in The Innocents is the age group the characters are in.
Having a character group this young and dealing with the normal things kids deal with makes for an altogether different kind of genre movie, and one that is far more haunting and unsettling due to the tender age of its cast.
Are these characters really evil, or are they just children who don’t know any better?
Ida is a unique character in that she is not perfect and does upsetting things. While on the car ride the way to their new home, she reaches over and pinches her sister in the leg, knowing she will not voice any pain or say anything to their parents. When she is with Ben, she takes on his enthusiasm for cruelty. But with Aisha, the children’s games tend to be more lighthearted.
Ida is a mirror reflecting on her surroundings and discovering her own identity.
If Ida is the blank slate of the film, then Aisha and Ben are the two opposing sides. Aisha uses her power to help and assist Anna with learning to speak, while Ben uses his power to put people in a fugue-like state, controlling their actions and punishing those who have wronged him.
Again, good and bad would be easier labels to put on the characters if they were in the same film and 10 years older, but their youngness is an interesting twist; when the horror happens, it resonates a lot further.
The dread is so understated and subtle that this is more of a dark drama than an altogether straightforward horror.
Calling this a dark drama is no slight on the film either.
There are unflinching and uncomfortable moments made more so by the grounded reality Vogt has set.
Instead of going bold with a movie about youngsters who can control things with their minds and using wall-to-wall special effects, Vogt keeps everything on a very human and real level.
The Innocents shines in these smaller moments, and that is a testament to Vogt’s script and the young actors. Kids committing casual animal torture is a lot more upsetting than out-and-out bloodletting.
The movie hits its stride in these dark moments and doesn’t shy away from the more upsetting side of showing your protagonist doing questionable things. If these characters were older, they would easily be seen by the audience as evil. But when they are young, it raises more interesting questions.
It is an uncomfortable viewing and one that fans of A24’s horror output should appreciate.
Vogt has crafted a unique and atmospheric human horror story set in the unpredictable world of children; this is character-driven horror at its best.