The Innocents is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
The horror genre has long enjoyed twisting and subverting the notion of childhood innocence. Throughout the history of film, classics such as The Children (2008), The Innocents (1961), Village of the Damned (1960), and Who Can Kill a Child (1976) have placed young cherubs in the role of scary killers to devastating effect. In many of these movies, it’s a demon, supernatural entity or a deadly virus that transforms loving children into rampant killers, with adults the victims of their transformation. However, very few explore the horror that ensues from the child’s point of view. But that is precisely what Eskil Vogt achieves in his outstanding slice of urban horror, The Innocents.
The Innocents isn’t just mesmerising in its intensity; it’s a fascinating psychological exploration of the childhood fears we choose to forget. In my recent review of Laura Wandel’s Playground, I stated,” Playground is an immersive, unnerving, and compelling slice of cinema, one that not only speaks to the experiences of every child but reminds us just how cruel kids can be as they develop their moral compass”. In many ways, Vogt’s The Innocents is a companion piece to Wandel’s Playground, taking these themes and amplifying them through spine-chilling horror.
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In The Innocents, the playground isn’t within the confines of a school but a 60s residential development in Romsås, Oslo, bordering woodland and an artificial lake. In Vogt’s modern masterpiece, the peace of the playground isn’t disrupted by a classic childhood fight for social hierarchy and power but by the arrival of supernatural powers of telekinesis and telepathy. Here the newfound powers unite and divide the children as they navigate the moral boundaries of their new gifts, with devastating results. It is within these supernatural and superhuman themes that The Innocents shares much in common with Chronicle (2012), Brightburn (2019) and, of course, Stephen King’s classic Carrie (1976). However, while all of these movies explored newfound powers through the turmoil of the adolescent mind, The Innocents explores these powers through a pre-teen world of boundless imagination, deep-seated fears, social confusion and developing emotions.
Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) is nine-years-old and lives with her mum, dad and elder sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), who has regressive autism. Ida and her family have recently moved to a new housing estate, and as she attempts to make friends, Ida meets a boy called Ben (Sam Ashraf). Ben has a hidden talent that he is keen to show Ida, a mental trick where he can make a bottle cap whiz through the air without touching it. To Ida, this trick is incredible, and she starts playing with Ben every day, even introducing him to her sister, who she regularly torments. However, Ben hides a wave of dangerous anger alongside his mysterious powers, as Ida discovers when he tortures a local cat in her presence.
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Meanwhile, Anna strikes up a non-verbal friendship with a girl called Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), who has telepathic powers. Here Aisha silently communicates with Anna, helping her unlock her frozen yet sharp mind. But while all of the children may begin as friends, their powers soon start to divide them, and for Ben, this divide is too much to handle as he slowly becomes further isolated from the girls.
As the children’s playground spirals out of control, Vogt creates a spine-chilling atmosphere many Hollywood productions could only aspire to achieve. With some of the finest child performances I have seen in the last decade, cinematography that wraps you in the child’s point of view and exquisite sound design, The Innocents is European horror at its best. Here the children are not evil, demonic or bad; they are merely kids, neither fully formed nor socially developed, trying to make sense of their world. Vogt asks us to think back to our own childhood and the moments that created our moral compass, the bullies we feared at the school gates and the uncertainty of our emerging emotions. As a result, The Innocents transcends the classic supernatural horror to become something nail-bitingly unique, a chilling journey into the fear, excitement, and anxiety of childhood.
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With some of the finest child performances I have seen in the last decade, cinematography that wraps you in the child’s point of view and exquisite sound design, The Innocents is European horror at its best.