- Movie Rating -

The Innocents (2021)

| May 13, 2022

Norwegian director Eskil Vogt got a double-honor at this year’s Academy Awards, first by getting a writing nomination along with his collaborator Joachim Trier for The World Person in the World and also saw his film nominated for Best International Feature.  That film, about the adventures of a young woman that could easily be written off as self-involved with regards to relationships and potential parenthood (she has plans before she settles into permanent responsibilities), might have made you uncomfortable if you weren’t apt to completely understand her situation.

His follow-up film, The Innocents, works in much the same way in that the decisions made by the characters are not obvious.  In this case, we are in the midst of a group of children who are about 9 or 10 and are at that age when the limits of permissiveness are being tested.  They know right from wrong but seeing what boundaries they can push prove to be a tasty treat out of the watchful eye of adults.  The fact that Vogt chose to give them burgeoning superpowers makes it all the more appealing.

Now, I don’t want that to scare you away.  That description is very likely to pull away viewers who grow weary of the MCU or who sigh at yet another underage youngster with powers they cannot control.  Let’s put it this way, there’s a new remake/reboot/reiteration/rehash/retread/retreat of Stephen King’s Firestarter that is dropping over on Peacock on the same day that Vogh’s film lands in the United States.  I can already tell you that this film is the pony to bet on.

What is refreshing is that, first, the kids seem like normal kids.  They live in a colorless housing development, all the buildings and all the windows look exactly the same.  The families are low-income which means that the parents spend much of their time working, and/or the parents are widowed or divorced, meaning that making a living is extra hard.

For nine-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) things are doubly difficult because her parent’s time is spent looking after her older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) who is autistic and so nonverbal that she cannot even yelp in pain – which is something that Ida tests on a regular basis.  The family is new to this complex and the inhospitable landscape of hulking buildings, overgrown trees and untended grass leave plenty of space for exploration.

One day Ida comes across a boy about her age named Ben (Sam Ashraf) who is a nice kid but is also quietly menacing and can hurl rocks and break objects with his mind.  Soon she also meets Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), a telepath whose abilities to literally put words into your mouth have surprising effects on Anna who is able to communicate exactly how she feels with words suppled by Aisha.

The narrative that blooms from these otherworldly powers is kind of fascinating but things take a much darker turn when Ben begins testing his limits.  Ben is the target of local kids and when he hurts one during a soccer game, things start to to take a turn for the worst.  And since the powers are known only to the kids and not their parents, Anna and Ida and Aisha have to find a way to control Ben before he can harm anyone else.

What I have described is really only the surface.  What happens in the last hour is really where the movie finds its feet.  What makes the film work are the performances of the kids.  They are all unstudied, untrained and actually talk like real kids.  I just saw the awful Netflix comedy Senior Year which features a group of high school students whose dialogue sounds like it came straight off of a Nickelodeon show.  Here there is a level of mystery, of kids whose experience is limited by their age.  They’re kids in every sense of the word, and mercifully, they don’t gain age-old wisdom just because they have superpowers.  They do bad things, they say bad things.  They are normal kids with the same impatience and fear that we all remember.

I liked this movie.  I liked its atmosphere.  I liked Vogt’s ability to create a world for these kids and their powers that feels like it lives in the natural world.  He keeps his special effects in check and doesn’t turn them into a stunt show.  He also doesn’t always nestle us in comfort.  This is often a very uncomfortable and disturbing film, one that ebbs toward horror films that like something moody and dark and original.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2022) View IMDB Filed in: Foreign, Horror