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The Innocents asks whether the supernatural kids are alright

THE INNOCENTS (IFC Midnight)

Eskil Vogt’s gripping second feature gazes at the limitations of childhood experience with clear, unblinking eyes.

In the first scene of Eskil Vogt’s sophomore feature The Innocents, a young girl pinches her autistic older sister while riding in the car. Her sister doesn’t react, so she pinches harder. The morality of Vogt’s latest ebbs and flows with this girl, her sister, and their two new friends, all of which have an odd connection, not to mention supernatural abilities. Kids have a gray version of right versus wrong, as violence sputters around the Norwegian thriller, minimal in technique but tense in execution. 

Vogt, the writing partner of Joachim Trier, focuses much of this story on the moral complexities of being a child — those left to their own devices to figure out how to seek revenge, handle conflict, and inflict pain. Violent in brutal bursts, the film sees these four children test out their powers on other kids, other adults, and even a stray cat. It’s a dark narrative, but it still refuses to opt for sustained shock. When these kids kill a cat or a person, life carries on. No one harps on these deaths — accidents happen and children cannot be to blame. They’re confused, they’re harmless. They’re innocent

Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), meet Ben (Sam Ashraf) and Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) a few days into living in their new apartment complex. Ben has telekinetic abilities and Aisha can hear and feel Anna’s thoughts. They force each other to mature, making decisions that impact families, children, and their community without a second thought. They wander around the playground and local forest testing one another, pushing themselves further into a dark connectedness. There’s a wave of anger existing below the surface, one built out of exclusion and family. 

THE INNOCENTS (IFC Midnight)
THE INNOCENTS (IFC Midnight)

Trier mines complete performances from these four child actors. They simultaneously remain blameless and terrifying, capable of heinous acts and giggling about it afterward. These kids, especially Fløttum and Asheim, carry the emotional weight of the story with an ease often unseen in actors under the age of 12. They bring gravity to these situations, friendships, and acts of violence. It’s a testament to Trier’s direction that he’s able to gather these performances into a seamless whole.

As these kids bounce between rage and regret, The Innocents becomes more of a horror film than initially expected. Despite a minimal score and a lack of stylistic flourish, The Innocents becomes scarier by the minute, especially as the powers within these 10-year-olds become more intense and uncontrollable. Vogt opts to use this overwhelming sense of dread over any genre tricks, finding tension in the silence between these kids and in this community. Much of the third act consists of the four characters simply looking at one another, standing still, hoping to overpower one another; it’s taut in its simplicity. 

During all of this violence, the adults of the film seem largely unbothered. There’s a general sadness in the air, but concern only goes so far. Instead, they continue on with work, marriages, babies, and the daily problems of caring for oneself while also caring for a family. Children playing doesn’t raise any alarms, and even when they see an act of violence in broad daylight, they’re reticent to offer up consequences.

THE INNOCENTS (IFC Midnight)
THE INNOCENTS (IFC Midnight)

For the adults of The Innocents, and for most of us, we cannot imagine these kids to be capable of it, and so we don’t. We presume them to be innocent, and they almost always are, without guidance or understanding, attempting to feel included and loved even when they’re forgotten for the majority of the day. 

Vogt’s thriller depicts the reality of kids finding out they have supernatural powers. It results in confusion and violence, groups of kids figuring out which lines they can and should cross. With gray senses of morality in their still-forming minds, they push the limits, craving connection yet ending up with some level of intense, temporary heartbreak. Adults know little about how children interact when unsupervised, left to their own interpretations of right vs. wrong, life vs. death, and how to treat others.

The Innocents explores all of these themes without heaviness or excitement, Vogt’s sophomore feature carrying a sense of sobriety that cements him as one of the finest writers working in European film. 

The Innocents is currently playing in theaters and available on VOD.

The Innocents Trailer:

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