An unsettling story about children growing up and dealing with the supernatural
Children can rarely be classified as ‘innocent,’ despite society’s view of them and the impression that we give to others when talking about the younger members of our own families. “My son is an angel” we might proudly proclaim when chatting to the parents at the school gate, while secretly knowing they threw a temper tantrum earlier that morning after throwing a breakfast bowl to the floor in protest at having to eat “boring old cereal” instead of a delicious packet of crisps!
Admittedly, some children are better behaved than others but many still have a dark side that belies their innocent exterior. And so it is with The Innocents, a Norwegian supernatural thriller that focuses on a group of young children, only two of whom can reasonably be described as ‘innocent.’
The other two children in this tale have a wicked streak, as can be seen during the moment when they torture a poor cat that has done absolutely nothing to cause them to behave in such a malicious way!
Scenes such as this are shocking to watch but they are far from being far-fetched. We can’t always be certain of what our own children are getting up to when outside of the home, and while we would hope they wouldn’t be so cruel as to hurt an animal, they might still take pleasure from bullying their classmates or taunting neighbours by playing nasty pranks on them!
The first children we are introduced to are Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her autistic older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), the latter of which lost the ability to speak from a very early age. From what we can tell, Anna is a perfectly nice young girl, but the same cannot be said of Ida who secretly pinches her sister’s skin and hides broken glass in her shoes.
When Ida later crushes a worm into the ground, it is clear that she is not averse to killing; a precursor to what comes later although we won’t reveal any major spoilers here.
Ida and Anna form friendships with two other children in the neighbourhood.
Ida starts to bond with Ben (Sam Ashraf), a young boy whose inner darkness seems to stem from his troubled upbringing with a negligent mother. Ben shares Ida’s unkind tendencies which is why the two of them are quick to relate to one another, although the two later start to grow apart when Ben becomes increasingly more malevolent.
Despite her inability to outwardly speak, Anna begins to connect with Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), the fourth and final protagonist of this tale.
Their connection lies not with the spoken word but with telepathy and it’s at this point that we realize this film doesn’t only explore the complexities of childhood. It’s also a film that takes a turn into the fantastical, as each of the children starts to come to terms with their own supernatural abilities. Telepathy is one such power but telekinesis is another ability that two of the children start to experiment with, leading to a tragic turn of events that are shocking in nature.
The film is anchored by the outstanding acting from its young cast. They act naturally and believably, without the tendency to overact and ham things up for the camera, which some child actors are guilty of. It is to director Eskil Vogt’s credit that he managed to coax such fine performances from them but kudos must also go to the casting director who made wise choices when choosing this particular set of children for the film.
As the film is largely told from the children’s perspective, we are able to explore the world as they do, with all of the challenges that they face, both social and supernatural.
We can relate to some of what they are going through via the memories of our own childhoods, from the resentments we felt when watching our siblings get the bulk of our parent’s attention to the fears we confronted when having to deal with situations that were out of our parent’s ability to comprehend.
Of course, very few of us had to deal with the onset of superhuman abilities (or perhaps that’s just me), but we can still relate to the children’s plight as they start to learn more about themselves and the realities of their different situations.
This is a compelling film that deals with blurred moralities, the complexities of friendships, and the challenges of childhood, and it is both cathartic and heartbreaking as it nears its dramatic conclusion. Like the children at the core of the film, there are moments when we don’t feel safe, as we are never quite sure what direction the film will take next. This is certainly a good thing as that sense of surprise is what keeps us engaged throughout this strange but intoxicating tale.
The Innocents resembles Petit Maman in some ways with its child’s-eye view of growing up and supernatural themes, and there’s a little bit of Brightburn in there too. But it also treads its own path, one that is both beautiful and chilling and is highly recommended if you can stomach some of the more gruesome aspects of the story.
With truly fine performances from its young cast and a narrative that ratchets up the tension as the children’s abilities escalate in power, The Innocents is a film that is well worth seeing. Not only will you be spellbound by the events that happen on screen but you will be more attuned to your own children too, with the knowledge that they are far more complicated as human beings than the ‘little angels’ or the ‘little monsters’ that you might sometimes paint them out to be.
Read More: The Innocents Ending Explained
Verdift - 8/10