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Review: ‘The Innocents’ channels subtle, unsettling horror with standout performances

(IFC Midnight)

Norwegian writer/director Eskil Vogt has had a very memorable and busy last few years. In 2021 at Cannes Film Festival two of his films debuted: “The Worst Person In The World,” for which he and his writing partner Joachim Trier were nominated for Oscars, as well as “The Innocents,” which he wrote and directed. The two are wildly different films which serve to showcase the range and talent you can expect from Vogt.

“The Innocents” is a film that explores deep thematic elements, anchored by the performances of four children. It is in those four children in which Vogt places the entirety of the film – every dramatic beat and dark horrific turn – all shown with a raw and grounded look and feel.

Rakel Lenora Fløttum as Ida and Sam Ashraf as Ben in “The Innocents.” (IFC Midnight)

The story begins when 9-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her family move to a remote tower block in Oslo at the start of the summer. Ida is often left to wander the surrounding woods and tower block alone or with her sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), who has autism. They meet fellow children Ben (Sam Ashraf) and Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) in these unsupervised play dates, and when the children are left to their own devices, strange and terrible things begin to happen.

As the children play, the audience is slowly introduced to their telekinetic powers and how the children are learning to manipulate them. Being that they are children, the powers start off very subtle – moving small rocks and bottle caps – but as the boredom increases and childish arguments and tantrums occur, things begin to take a dramatically darker turn.

It becomes increasingly more clear that Ben is disturbed. He takes his aggressions out on the neighborhood cat, before escalating to using his powers on other people, his powers grow as he uses them more, leading to a sinister game of cat and mouse. It is through this character’s journey that the film’s most controversial topics arise, and Vogt’s decision to do all of this through the eyes of children makes it even more compelling. There is not only a natural raising of the stakes seeing these children in peril, but seeing them behave so cruelly leads to a larger inner turmoil for those hoping for, or expecting, a much needed comeuppance.

The filmmaker’s creativity with the powers and how they work make for an especially thrilling final act, using drone footage and CGI that feels more complementary than gratuitous. Vogt has created a world full of powers, they are not explained or shown in detail, but it feels so natural and visceral that it never feels unbelievable. Evoking other telekinetic horror films like “The Fury” and “Carrie,” “The Innocents” is able to stay wholly original thanks to Vogt’s sturdy direction and his vision for this world. The cinematography feels updated and sleek, lending more credibility to the reality of the situation. Norwegian horror films are continually making their stamp on the zeitgeist, consistently showcasing talent and creating someone of the most visually compelling stories.

The child actors all turn in surprisingly poignant and emotional performances. It is no small feat getting four knockout performances from child actors, but that is exactly what happens with “The Innocents” – and if each child didn’t rise to the occasion, this film would lose all credibility with its audience. If you are a fan of horror films, “The Innocents” is a film to seek out.

Star Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“The Innocents” releases in select theaters and on demand May 13.

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Joel Winstead View All

Film critic and member of the NCFCA and SEFCA

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