The Innocents

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Innocents
"The subtlety Vogt employs as a director pays off in spades as he gets as much creepy mileage from the disturbance of soil and water as any amount of CGI could muster." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

The setting of a modern Nordic housing estate may be different but the chilling elements of Eskil Vogt's latest film have a long and successful lineage that includes the likes of The Turn Of The Screw, The Midwich Cuckoos and any number of Stephen King books. The kids, you see, are not quite all right. Take nine-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum), for example. She's just moved to the estate with her mum, dad and older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), who has autism. You can see Ida knows it's wrong to pinch her sibling but there's a frustration and loneliness that fuels her to do it anyway, egged on, perhaps, by the fact that Anna doesn't seem to feel it.

When Ida meets the similarly aged Ben (Sam Ashraf) - who notably is sporting a large bruise that signposts trouble at home - it seems like a positive friendship might be formed as he shows a little trick he can play with his mind, but a game with a cat that they encounter in the woods, soon takes a very sadistic turn. Elsewhere on the estate, little Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) lives with her mum, who is grappling with grief since her father died. Rather than moving things with her mind, Aisha can be moved by others, hearing their thoughts, including those of Anna, with whom she is able to have detailed conversations.

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Telekinesis and telepathy are always enjoyably chilling ingredients and the bright summer sunshine and candy coloured clothes the kids wear adds to the oddness, powers operating in daylight somehow more unexpected than those that come at night. To the kids, though, they are no more magic than the erasable Magna Doodle-style drawing screen Anna loves - and this is very much the children's world, as cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen keeps us at their height, interested in the details they are rather than the adult world. Vogt - who has recently enjoyed international success as the scriptwriter of The Worst Person In The World - is back in similar territory to his earlier collaboration with Joachim Trier, Thelma, which also considered what might happen if a youngster with special powers began to lose control of them.

The subtlety Vogt employs as a director pays off in spades as he gets as much creepy mileage from the disturbance of soil and water as any amount of CGI could muster. He keeps his threats simple but effective, as with films like It Follows, we are often allowed to see the danger looming which helps it gather heft. He is helped by tremendous performances from his young cast, in particular, Fløttum, who is at the heart of the moral conflict of the film, having to make choices about right and wrong that she has never encountered before. The others may have the psychic abilities but it's her mental strength in the face of a moral maze that really gets put to the test.

Reviewed on: 21 May 2022
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During the bright Nordic summer, a group of children reveal their dark and mysterious powers when the adults aren't looking.

Director: Eskil Vogt

Writer: Eskil Vogt

Starring: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashraf, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Morten Svartveit

Year: 2021

Runtime: 117 minutes

Country: US, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland


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