‘The Innocents’ Review: A Telekinetic Horror Movie Worth Watching
The unique horror of scary children’s movies is the fear adults have of these still-forming spirits. Children can be cruel in such a careless way that it’s heartbreaking. Such cruelty is the starting point of Innocents, a Norwegian film about a young group of friends whose bond is forged and then tested due to their telekinetic powers. In our summer movie previewI likened the concept to the teen sci-fi drama the Chronicle. But with a new Fire starter out today, Innocents proves a bumpy rival.
Written and directed by Eskil Vogt, Innocents begins with acts of childish violence, which escalate at an alarming rate. When we first meet young Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum), she bristles with resentment at the attention her older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), who is autistic and nonverbal, receives from their parents. Feeling neglected, Ida vents her frustrations by spitting balconies, stomping worms, and pinching hard on her sister who can’t protest. Then she meets a frustrated fellow student, Benjamin (Sam Ashraf), and is impressed not only by his shared appreciation for destruction, but also by his inexplicable ability to make things happen with his mind.
As Ida and Benjamin’s bond blossoms over dark interests, Anna finds a friend in Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), a cheerful young girl who can talk with her and Benjamin telepathically. As the four play together, their powers grow and give Anna voice in a way she didn’t have before. The power in the hands of a child becomes horrifying as Benjamin’s violent tantrums take a supernatural turn. Before long, these children face off in a deadly battle of the wits.
Credit: IFC Minuit
Telekinetic kids going wild is not new ground. Stephen King struck both with Fire starter and carrie, both of which have been adapted several times. the Chronicle imagined how teenagers could be impacted by abrupt superpowers, like every Spider-Man franchise. The X-Men films have aired the concept, while repeatedly focusing on Jean Gray and her complicated conflict with her father figure/jailor, Professor X. Even the sensational indie thriller Monsters reimagined a new take on the super-powered, angry child’s tale. (Really awesome, look it up.) Yet Innocents stands out by choosing substance and subtlety rather than spectacle.
The performances of its young stars are neither broad nor courageous nor even entirely affable. Introduced by the threat, Ida is instantly off-putting, but it is she who we follow more closely. Watching her day and night, we are challenged to understand why she chooses violence. For his part, Benjamin is often furious, but disturbing domestic scenes quickly establish where all that rage is coming from. Likewise, the friendship between Anna and Aisha is forged in moments of silence, swings and sweet laughter. We are not pushed through this world with the force of a blowing plot. We are invited to accompany a band of curious, captivating and annoying children.
Credit: IFC Minuit
The imposing apartment building that towers over their paltry playground and the woods beyond is a constant reminder of the rigidity and coldness of their home life: working parents too exhausted to cuddle them. A poverty that scratches their comfort and threatens their future. Everything is in the frame, but never precisely the focus. Instead, Vogt focuses on how four kids in similar circumstances react when pressured and given a bit of power. These children know that adults will not believe the wonders and horrors they have seen. So it’s up to them to engage in a final showdown without advice, but not without consequences. The concept of a child with a key finds its analogy with horror.
After establishing the slippery consciences of Ida and Benjamin, Vogt enters a strangely unpredictable second half. With children so cruel, unmoored by parental guidance, unloved and angry, it’s impossible to guess where their dark imaginations might lead them. Along this path there are nightmarish visions, disturbing violence and a tremendous fear of jumping. Yet overall, Vogt’s grounded story rejects the kind of splashy third act Americans might expect from this genre. Instead, it creates something deeply grounded, uniquely haunting, and oddly hopeful about the bonds of friendship and brotherhood.
At the end, Innocents is a sophisticated, chilling film that shines with genuine anger and unexpected empathy for its creepy children.
Innocents is now in select theaters and available on VOD wherever you rent movies.