Review: The Innocents
Evil children are not a new thing in the horror genre. Few films that deal with nasty kids explore the moral development so crucial during childhood. Usually, the kids start evil and end evil but writer/director Eskil Vogt's The Innocents is more interested in the line between innocence and malice. In this effective and unnerving horror film, supernatural abilities are a springboard for a thoughtful film about childhood.
Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) often tests her older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) who has regressive autism. She pinches her and prods her to get her to speak. They have both recently moved to a new high-rise apartment. Anna takes up much of their parent's attention and you can tell Ida is jealous. Luckily, Ida soon finds a friend in Ben (Sam Ashraf) a loner who is often bullied. He shares with Ida his power, some sort of telekinesis. Anna also makes a friend, Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) who also has abilities. Things start off innocent, bottle caps getting moved, but soon turn gruesome as Ben harbors a deep resentment for living things.
Director Vogt finds deep empathy in these children. Ida is the newcomer and the only kid without powers so she is the audience surrogate. We are with her as she sees Ben turn into something sinister. She is initially excited by it, no stranger to raising hell. It is only when she feels in danger that she comes to see Ben for what he is. However, Vogt is careful to not make Ben pure evil. He comes from a single-parent home and there are indications that his mother is not the most caring person. The film can toggle between moments of empathetic tender exchanges and chilling cruelty.
Vogt's direction is confident and occasionally stylish but the real power of the film lies with its young actors. The film is framed from their perspective. Rarely is the camera above four feet in height. The four lead child actors here are all wonderful, fully convincing as they discover their magic and watch as it perverts. From the visual details to the surprisingly empathetic look at how innocence moves to evil, The Innocents is a strong horror film featuring one of the more unsettling portraits of childhood in recent memory.