The Innocents – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Director – Eskil Vogt
Writer – Eskil Vogt
Stars – Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashraf
In Cinemas & Digital Platforms 20th May
This is a disturbing, exploration of childhood evil by Norwegian Eskil Vogt. It is truly a horror movie that will leave the viewer keen to get back into the fresh air of the surrounding streets… or maybe not. It might be safer to stay in the cinema. This is not The Exorcist (1977) or The Omen (1976) and their many offshoots. There is no atmospheric soundtrack suggesting horror around the corner. There are no scary corridors and dark passageways or spinning heads. Indeed, the film is all the more chilling for the surface normality of it all.
Nine-year-old Ida and her severely autistic sister Anna move with their parents to a new home. Their interactions with their new surroundings and the children of the neighbourhood form the nucleus of the plot. What appears to be an idyllic housing development, the Scandinavian social dream, set in the peaceful countryside actually houses dark forces, very dark forces indeed. Otherwise innocent children, at least the core protagonists, are capable it seems of great violence and evil – all the more chilling as they are otherwise pleasant and indeed innocent looking. So the forces controlling their exploits are extremely potent.
Vogt’s superb team of young actors convey, in the most convincing way possible, the sense of wonder and discovery children might have as they make new friends and discover skills and wonder at what initially appears like clever party tricks. The tight narrative shows how the children interact in an open and friendly way with the world around them, the neighbourhood itself, the woodlands, the adults and fellow children. And yet these interactions can be scary – they sometimes represent the unknown and the simplest thing can be a death trap. Even in a more jocular sense the celebrated Bill Waterson comic strip Calvin & Hobbes (1985-95) suggested that the eponymous hero could be capable of great mischief and darker thoughts. The children themselves also have their own inner world which the adults can seldom penetrate. We watch with fascination how they can act one way with their parents and other adults and entirely differently with their peers. While capable of, or more correctly vehicles of, violence the children even the most threatening are not in themselves evil. They explore the details of the world around them, the leaves on trees and the branches on the forest floor. We explore this world with them in close up detail – ever conscious of the adult world in the background and the parents getting on with putting food on the table and dealing with unwell children. We are left wondering where the innocence is to be found. With the children or with the unwitting adults in the surrounding homes?