The Innocents

The Innocents Review

A playground thriller with superhero implications.

The Innocents will debut on demand and in select theaters on May 13, 2022.


Eskil Vogt's The Innocents fits the canon of mature genre tales told from childhood perspectives, such as Issa López's Mexican cartel thriller Tigers Are Not Afraid or Joe Cornish's alien invasion Attack the Block. The Norwegian sci-fright flick runs just about two hours (117 minutes to be exact) and requires patience as adolescent actors ease into a slow-burn supernatural story about family values, innocence lost, and no supervision. There's not really an adrenaline kick until about 30 minutes from the end, which might lose audiences unwilling to indulge the playground dynamics that teeter the power struggles back and forth. Vogt's fable-like delivery will be considered a whimsical accent or plodding hindrance depending on who's asked because The Innocents simmers steady-like-a-snail in a way that won't please everyone — even if the eventual tension reaches a steamy boil.

The young ensemble acts well past their ages, which is impressive given their elementary school personas. Alva Brynsmo Ramstad plays the eldest of the bunch as Anna, an autistic daughter and sister who comes off as roughly 12 years old. Rakel Lenora Fløttum stars as Anna's much younger sibling Ida, who's tasked with taking Anna outside for recreational fun — where they meet residential companions Ben (Sam Ashraf) and Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim). Ida and Anna are newbies in an apartment complex emptied for the summer holidays, which supports believable isolation as the rugrats scamper about without much adult interference. There's a bit of a Neverland vibe when Ida and Anna leave the inside world behind, which becomes less interpretive and more representative when the group discovers they individually harness special powers that are stronger when together.

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The Innocents isn't as exciting as The New Mutants or other comic adaptations about juveniles coming to terms with their unique abilities. Vogt's storytelling is quieter, less concerned with action sequences in Nordic woodlands. Ben trains his telekinesis to hurl larger and heavier objects. Anna starts speaking short sentences and manipulating gravity. Aisha can see and sense the pain of others. These are impressionable children now saddled with incredible gifts. Vogt becomes obsessed with how they always act their ages, which becomes a fantastical exploration of childhood through Ida and Anna's strengthened relationship or Ben's concerning carelessness.

Vogt challenges audiences to behold a darkly stakes-heavy second and third act with characters who'd eat ice cream for dinner every night if they could. Maybe that'll be a breaking point for some, as Ida's or Ben's behavior constantly fluctuates because of their severely underdeveloped brains full of curiosity and rashness. The Innocents doesn't do much talking — Vogt shows us bleakness through abusive animal torment, heartbreak as harmful homelives are exposed, and giggles while little monsters test superhuman abilities. No character shows a deeper understanding of their actions beyond the impulsiveness of tantrums or pursuit of happiness, which exposes the title's meaning because no parent would ever believe their precious offspring could levitate rocks or trust their outrageously "creative" explanations.

The film's duration might weigh down some watchers, but surprisingly not because of the performances. Vogt empowers his underage cast to brilliantly carry The Innocents. Alva Brynsmo Ramstad plays convincingly on the spectrum, not out of disrespect to Autistic actors, but due to the role's dual nature when there are breakthrough "clarity" moments. Most petite of all in size, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim might even be the mightiest presence of the bunch — Aisha’s ability to visualize another person's injuries becomes the most horror-forward imagery in The Innocents. There's so much talent crammed into pint-sized figures, where their triumphs and mistakes feel wholly natural as coming-of-age benchmarks. The laughs their characters share, and the fears they confront, hit so much harder because they're doing so without parental protection.

Storytelling rewards are bountiful once The Innocents executes its conflicts.

Horror elements aren't extensive, but The Innocents is still a horror movie. "Horror Lite" is a better description. Ben's manipulation of consciousness can transport characters into these hallucinatory realms where all they see is their deepest paranoias. There's a horrific demon version of Aisha at one point; Ida scampers through a Grimm fairytale forest away from snakes elsewhere. That's without the violence that takes place as rage and helplessness become emotions that overtake at least one child, stemming from an unloving caretaker situation. There are dynamic connections between compassion, hatred, and the messiest middlegrounds that’d overwhelm most Hollywood stars — and yet Ida, Anna, Aisha, and Ben embrace thematic perils. Despite their ages, they're allowed to hurt, defend, and atone: no safety nets nor pandering Saturday morning cartoon padding.

Verdict

The Innocents is a slow-burner that stars a majority small-fry cast and yet is far more poised and impactful than those descriptions suggest. Eskil Vogt commands a superhuman story that exposes the wild extremes of childhood experiences and throws in some unsupervised horror for good measure. Audiences of all ages can learn from knee-high characters discovering themselves, recognizing consequences, and standing up for what's right. The pace of this gorgeously shot Norwegian pseudo-fable will be a roadblock for some, but give Vogt a chance. Storytelling rewards are bountiful once The Innocents executes its conflicts well above the expected maturities of players on screen.
The Innocents Review
8
great
The Innocents is a playground thriller with superhero implications that speaks wiser and gets darker than you’d presume the age of actors to permit.