Review: THE INNOCENTS, Beware, Children at Play
It can often be difficult to know when to trust a child; on one hand, we want to believe that children are innocent and good, and will tell us the truth. On the other, I've known plenty of children who lie and bully, usually with adults none the wiser. Kids left to their own devices will often get into trouble, and sometimes make it; a child with too much power is likely a danger. And evil children are often far more frightening than adults.
Norwegian filmmaker Eskin Vogt (co-writer of Thelma and The Worst Person in the World) blends social realism and horror in the chilling and all-too-familiar The Innocents. Set over a lazy summer, the story of children who develop strange powers that prove both fruitful and dangerous makes for a tale of simmering anger and childhood needs and fears.
Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) is not particularly happy about her family's move to the suburbs, particularly when she feels neglected in favour of her sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), who is Autistic and non-verbal. She takes perverse delight in harming her to see if she can ever get a reaction, and frequently abandons her sister-minding duties. She makes fast friends with another lonely child, Ben (Sam Ashraf), whose mother is less than attentive, to say the least. Ben reveals an odd power that he recently gained: he can make objects move with his mind. They soon meet another lonely child, Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), whose telepathic ability means a line of communication to Anna, and a means for Anna to finally express herself verbally.
Ida, Ben, and the others have a freedom to roam not often afforded to children today; perhaps the parents are lulled into a security by the surroundings, never imagining it is the children themselves that will be the danger. But these spaces mean evil can hide in plain sight. There is nothing for the children to do apart from the use the playground equipment or make their own fun - little distraction means their powers take on a different meaning, first as entertainment, then as revenge for some minor slight or just a desperate cry for attention.
Ida is jealous of Ben's newfound ability, as she is jealous that Aisha can communicate with her sister, and others; Ida is left out, even as she seems the centre of this new social circle. All of these children have the roots of trauma firmly planted, now starting to take hold: Ida feeling neglected, Anna lost in her own mind, Aisha whose mother is wrapped in her own grief, and Ben, whose abusive mother, combined with his power, makes him a growing danger.
At what point do we hold children responsible for their actions? At what point can we draw a line between defending their worth as people and the necessary oversight that adults (perhaps understandable) impose upon them? As each of these children is forced to grow up perhaps faster than they should, each reacts differently: Aisha and Anna find solace in friendship, Ben in causing increasingly brutal harm. The almost willful ignorance of the adults keeps Ida and the others in a terrible isolation in which their pain and anger grows.
Vogt shows this as the children seem to grow and shrink in the world around them, as the open spaces become even more menacing, and they are not safe even in their bedrooms. Their middle-class freedom becomes a danger, and they can only depend on themselves. All of these young actors are exceptional - you feel their eyes borrowing into you, you remember your own childhood and wonder if you might have been a little too cruel if you were in their shoes. Their powers are presented not to make them seem as superheroes, but in that way that children seem capable of things we forget about as adults, things that can make them a joy, or a danger. This is not The Village of the Damned, but your own suburban backyard.
With an eerie score, a drawing out of horrors to make us cringe and weep, and a keen eye to the perspective of children, Vogt gives The Innocents an firm footing in a reality that makes the horror that much more terrifying. You won't look at kids on the playground in the same way again.
The Innocents opens in the USA and Canada in theaters and on demand on Friday, May 13th.
- Eskil Vogt
- Eskil Vogt
- Rakel Lenora Fløttum
- Alva Brynsmo Ramstad
- Sam Ashraf