Horror movies, by their nature, are often difficult to watch, but the result is the combination of cheap thrill and catharsis.
“The Innocents,” writer-director Eskil Vogt’s horror flick about children with supernatural powers, is definitely a hard-to-watch, brutal affair. But thrills don’t come cheap – they’re hard-earned, if you can call them thrills. And catharsis, such as it is, is so entangled in the mysteries of childhood that it’s hard to know what to think about.
The kids’ acting is exceptional, and Vogt certainly brings a quirky twist to the hidden powers trope. But wow, some parts are difficult.
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These kids get into some very disturbing business
Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) move into an apartment complex next to woods. Anna is autistic and mostly non-verbal, and young Ida is often tasked with caring for her.
Adorable little girl, Ida does things like put broken glass in Anna’s shoes. Of course, he grinds the soles of Anna’s feet, leaving her to bleed. But it has the same effect on Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth), a little girl who lives in another apartment in the tower.
Meanwhile, Ida meets Ben (Sam Ashraf), who can throw rocks and break branches with his mind, much to Ida’s delight. The two make a sadistic pair; in one scene, they drop a cat down a multi-story stairwell. The drop is pretty bad. The sequel is worse.
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It turns out that Aisha can hear other people’s thoughts, including those of Anna, who was previously unable to communicate. But Anna is also powerful.
Parents exist in the background
Vogt centers the story on children; we see their parents’ struggles through their eyes (Ida and Anna’s mom and dad are busy and distracted; Aisha and Ben are single moms). Their alliances will change, but it becomes increasingly clear that Ben is dangerous. Murderly dangerous, and not at all shy about using his burgeoning powers.
It will have to be stopped. But at what cost ? And what will he have done?
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It is a difficult material. The extremely talented child actors are so genuine it’s frightening. Ashraf in particular is involved in some pretty grisly scenes. Vogt isn’t averse to showing burn blisters, protruding open fractures and the like. Ashraf’s expressive eyes – he concentrates hard when conjuring up his dark magic, whatever it is – do much of the work.
To say it’s uncomfortable is an understatement. Children are capable of a lot of amazing casual cruelty, as anyone who spent more than a minute and a half on a playground knows growing up. That’s basically it, and then with an evil purpose.
But it’s also compelling.
Why? Partly because you want to know what’s going to happen next. Can kids do…that? And would they?
It’s also fascinating to see the acting. It’s not just Ashraf who is so good; he just probably has the most complex role, certainly from a moral point of view – although Ida from Fløttum gives him his money’s worth.
What is Eskil Vogt trying to say in ‘The Innocents’?
The film also plays like a parent’s nightmare, meaning if parents paid enough attention to notice. Honestly, I have no real idea what Vogt — who co-wrote the brilliant film “The worst person in the world” – is so far. Is he trying to torment the public? To entertain? Offer deeper wisdom about the mysteries of childhood, about a parent’s nightmare scenario taken to extremes?
Or is he just trying to scare us?
Yes probably. All the foregoing. And in all of those ways, it works.
‘The Innocents’ 3 stars
Awesome ★★★★★ Good ★★★★
Correct ★★★ Bad ★★ Bomb ★
Director: Eskil Vogt.
Cast: Rakel Lenora Flottum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashraf.
To note: In theaters May 13.
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