The Innocents (2021) and Horror of Thinking ‘Kids Will Be Kids’
Title: The Innocents
First Non-Festival Release: September 3, 2021 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Eskil Vogt
Writer: Eskil Vogt
Runtime: 117 Minutes
Starring: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashraf, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
While everyone is on holiday, Ida’s (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) family is moving to a new apartment complex for her father’s job. Already frustrated at the attention her non-verbal autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) gets from her parents, Ida sets out to find friends of her own. She makes one in Ben (Sam Ashraf), a loner with some underlying rage. The two get along well enough to play together, their favorite game which involves testing Ben’s superpowers. It’s evident, however, that Ben isn’t faking. As the summer rolls on, a small group forms based on their burgeoning powers, including Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) who finds a way to communicate with Anna. Not having powers is the least of Ida’s worries, when what begins as simple childhood fun turns into horror after playtime sours.
Dark, foreboding, and shocking, The Innocents is a compelling coming-of-age story steeped in the horrors of growing up.
Childhood can be unpleasant for a variety of reasons, but even mores so when there are troubles at home. Each of the four main characters have difficult home lives that contribute to the mischief they get into when they leave their parents sights. Both Ben and Aisha come from single family homes. Ben’s mother is verbally, and sometimes physically abusive, whereas Aisha’s mother works overtime to make ends meet. Anna comes from a home with loving parents but cannot communicate any of her desires, thoughts, or feelings due to her dysphasia set on by her autism. Ida resents her big sister due to the sense of responsibility she shoulders to take care of her.
The powers manifested by each child make perfect sense considering their situations. In wielding the powers of object manipulation and suggestion, Ben clearly wants control over his life. An outcast until this summer, Ben uses his strength to maintain order and seek revenge. Aisha has contended with vitiligo all her life, which has made it difficult to make and keep friends. Her abilities to communicate with Anna showcase her empathy and desire to connect almost as much as it does with Anna. Anna’s powers could have wavered into harmful tropes had they been handled poorly, but thankfully writer/director Eskil Vogt opts to keep Anna on an equal playing field as her peers. In the end, her superpower personality attribute is her desire for justice, which is how she uses her talents to protect everyone.
Ida’s lack of powers makes perfect sense in the context of the film. It’s clear that each of the other three develop their powers from the unfortunate circumstances of their lives. Ida does not relate in that sense. Yes, taking care of Anna is difficult but does not compare to issues the others face. This does not stop Ida from going through a momentous character arc. Her callousness in the beginning is doubted when she sees the cruelty within Ben. In that moment, Ida truly sees Ben, as she has finally found someone that might understand her. Except, she really doesn’t relate, as her cruelty stems from ignorance rather than experience. Eventually, through spending real time talking with her sister through Aisha, she learns more about how her actions affected her. Twinges of guilt betray Ida as she empathizes more with Anna’s struggles and grows more fearful of Ben’s rage. Cruelty is born from resentment, indifference, and the unknown.
Ida’s character arc brilliantly exhibits the development of empathy and embodies some of the most substantial themes from The Innocents. One of the first moments between Ida and Anna involves Ida pinching Anna in the car while moving to the apartment complex. This behavior of hurting Anna continues with placing glass shards in her shoes, leaving her at the playground, and insulting her. The moment Aisha relays Anna’s true feelings behind this treatment, Ida re-evaluates her behavior. It doesn’t happen all at once, but as the film progresses, she tries harder to truly protect her sister, and grows actual attachment to her. She finally sees the humanity in Anna. This works doubly well as a reflection of society’s treatment of autistic people, or those with other developmental disabilities.
Ben’s arc portrays the exact opposite journey. His development of powers beyond his understanding causes him to lash out at those who hurt him. From playground bullies and his family to his newfound friends, Ben’s wrath tolerates no deviation from his expected treatment. Even when Ben is confronted with the knowledge that his treatment of others mirrors his own pain, he never reconciles it. In fact, the moments where he is alone in his apartment, weeping because he has pushed away his only friends due to his actions beautifully capture his misunderstandings. He knows that something is wrong, but he can neither articulate it nor come to terms with his own actions being the problem.
There are so much to discuss in this film with so little time to truly pick it a part. Beyond its story, The Innocents is layered with intentional cinematography and top-notch direction. The young cast do a phenomenal job of portraying their complex characters with nuance and dexterity. It does veer on the long side, but every moment is worth its place onscreen by the time it reaches its tense climax.
Disturbing, dramatic horror at its best, The Innocents is a well-crafted tale of adolescence and the dangers associated with it. Led by powerful performances from its primarily younger cast, The Innocents shocks with its uncompromising approach to depicting cruelty, love, and power within children. The social hierarchies, bruised egos, and lack of adult understanding are almost as terrifying as the unregulated superpowers. Beautifully filmed and scored with an attention to detail, this Norwegian import will leave you horrified during its runtime and deep in thought long after it concludes. There are few films that authentically capture what is scary about growing up, but if you listen close enough The Innocents will share a story more haunting than most other scary stories that keep kids up at night.
Overall Score? 8/10