Free-range kids struggling with feelings of abandonment get psychic powers. What could go wrong?
Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | June 9, 2022
One of the most successful horror formulas involves using recognizable everyday struggles and tweaking them just enough to turn them into nightmares (see The Babadook).
The superb Norwegian film The Innocents not only succeeds at that, it forgoes the zero-sum rule that makes American horror so predictable (only “compromised” characters get their comeuppance, so there are no “unjust” outcomes).
Written and directed by Eskil Vogt (Oscar nominee for The Worst Person in the World), The Innocents takes place in a low-rent apartment complex in the outskirts of an unnamed Nordic city. One of the youngest residents, nine-year-old Ida, is feeling neglected by her parents, who have their hands full with her older sister Anna, who is high on the autism spectrum.
Largely unattended, Ida befriends another free-range brat. Ben has mild telekinetic abilities that grow stronger in the vicinity of Anna, Ida, and another neighbourhood kid, Aisha. In turn, the girls develop telepathic powers. Given their wobbly sense of right and wrong and lack of supervision, the children become dangerous, as a local cat discovers early on. Things kick into high gear when Ben realizes he can control other people by altering their perception of reality.
The cat scene is unbearable, but justified, as it gives us a glimpse of the kids’ moral compass, with Ben’s leaning heavily towards “wicked”. The Innocents does a phenomenal job raising the stakes by making viewers care for the children, even Ben, clearly pained by his perceived abandonment.
The lead, Ida, is presented as a blank page that absorbs her parents’ haphazard education and Ben’s cruelty and vindictiveness. For most of the movie, she sits on the fence, engaging in her own acts of mischief against her sister, who is unable to complain. The film is reminiscent of the likes of Chronicle, We Need to Talk About Kevin and even Brick, but has its own consistency.
There is no weak link in The Innocents. It may leave viewers with a bitter aftertaste, but that’s just a horror movie doing a good job. Don’t hold it against Vogt.