Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents is a haunting original thriller exploring the loosening grasp on childhood innocence through realism and the supernatural.
The innocence of children is something that quickly gets lost in each passing day. No matter how much a child can be sheltered from the wider world, the realities of death, right and wrong and the concept of righteousness all have a way of catching up with them. The debate of nature vs nurture is as old as time yet a clear answer has never been found. Although The Innocents doesn’t attempt to answer this particular question, it does establish itself as a haunting thriller about the limits of child imagination and the danger of leaving those to their own devices.
The Innocents follows a group of four children over the summer holidays. Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her autistic sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) have moved into an apartment complex at a point in time where it’s mostly empty as the inhabitants have left for their own summer vacations. However, Ida quickly finds friends in the form of a young boy named Ben (Sam Ashraf) and Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim). As the four children get to know each other, they each discover they possess supernatural abilities which they begin to use in the playground for fun. As they discover each of their abilities and become closer to each other, things begin to take a dark turn and their childhood innocence begins to be enveloped into darkness.
This isn’t the first time director and writer Eskil Vogt has tackled the supernatural. However, whereas his previous work Thelma told a supernatural love story with thematic echoes of Carrie, The Innocents instead views the supernatural under a more thrilleristic approach while almost serving as a true villain of the film as it reaches its end point. Much of the film centers around the children becoming increasingly more masochistic while still holding onto the few grasps of childhood innocence they hold inside of them, leading to some truly haunting scenes that help create this terrifying atmosphere as the bright pleasant summer days are juxtaposed by overwhelming darkness.
Eskil Vogt views the central location of an apartment complex in The Innocents almost as a sort of purgatory. All that surrounds it are trees and despite being close to a highway, it feels almost entirely detached from the world. One particular shot early in the film of a plane flying over the complex almost gives the impression that those inside are fleeing this dark place yet the children here are unknowingly trapped. Whether it’s a bright summer’s day or the apartment complex is enveloped by an almost Silent Hill like fog, the oppressive nature of the film’s scenery is felt in every frame.
Making a film where children are the main focus even in its most horrifying moments is a tough task to undertake, yet Eskil Vogt manages to get some truly fantastic performances out of each of the four children with incredible ease. For Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, there’s a very challenging and difficult role to undertake here as she plays a non verbal autistic character yet she’s able to turn this role into arguably the heart of the entire film. While she might not have words at her disposal, the use of body language and emotions on a physical level is quietly one of the most effective forms of emotions that The Innocents manages to create for itself. Although this character goes through some difficult scenes, it never feels exploitive or simply done for shock value by Eskil Vogt. The most intense and graphic scenes in the film are directed with a certain “unattractiveness” and a sense of realism that works throughout even when it begins to dip its toes into the supernatural.
For a film that’s a little under two hours long, The Innocents does suffer from some bloat around the middle as it begins to find a more concise narrative path. While it’s endlessly engaging from the first frame, it does have a few moments of slow down that take a little bit of a hit at the overall urgency at times. However, Eskil’s direction and sheer powerhouse performances of the children keeps everything afloat right to the end credits.
The Innocents is a truly bold thriller that takes elements from movies like Chronicle and The Florida Project to create an original piece on its own. The task of having almost the entire film center around a group of children is a risk that pays off beautifully to create a truly haunting and frightening piece that explores the concept of innocence in children and just how quickly that is lost in the modern world.
The Innocents will be released in US theaters and on demand on Friday, May 13, 2022.