The Innocents

I like to celebrate all types of cinema but the last two films I watched were Rebel Wilson’s Netflix movie Senior Year and Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers. It’s fair to say I was ready for something a little more… sophisticated.

On the face of it The Innocents may not appear to fit that bill. It is a movie about a handful of people in a community who develop unexplained superpowers before one starts to use them to hurt people meaning the others have to step in. It is shockingly violent with elements of horror and a handful of jump scares. It sound generic but let me tell you that it is brilliantly written, incredibly tense, totally unpredictable, superbly performed and with a palpable sense of peril for those involved, oh and it’s a foreign language film and all the main players are aged between seven and eleven.

The Innocents comes from Norwegian writer/director Eskil Vogt who was nominated for an Oscar this year for the screenplay for The Worst Person in the World. Here he has taken a premise that has certainly been used before, most notably in Josh Trank’s Chronicle, but has done something with it that feels fresh and bold. We’ve had plenty of creepy kids on screen in the past as well but Vogt has managed to perfectly capture the world of children and how they don’t quite know the implications of their actions, when something isn’t a game anymore and whether they should be getting adults involved in their, admittedly in this case – major, playground squabbles. The acting of the mostly young cast is superb, especially eleven year old Alva Brynsmo Ramstad whose performance as a girl with a disability is respectful and authentic in a way that is reminiscent of Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot, and dare I say more subtle. Credit to all of them, and to Vogt as director, for getting these results on screen.

There is also some interesting psychology at play here. The children’s powers are never explained but to some extent their motivations are. Like so many horror films, with which this shares some traits even it is sidesteps simple genre categorisation, there are real world themes here including examinations of the consequences of bullying and neglect.

I have said the film is violent, and it is, but it isn’t too graphic. It is realistic but not extreme and in many places it is the implication that is more upsetting than what you see (many places but perhaps not all). The story is also absolutely gripping and the fear you feel for the kids and in some cases their parents is intense. There is more reserve in the film than excess though, which at the risk of being reductive, does feel quite European. The Innocents is certainly reminiscent of child centred movies like Let the Right One In and The Orphanage and shares some of the same sensibilities. It isn’t as good as those two movies but I can comfortably tell you it’s better than Senior Year and Chip n Dale.

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The Ripley Factor:

The age of the people involved is probably more relevant than their genders but the lead is Rakel Leonora Fløttum’s Ida, sister to Alva Brynsmo Ramstad’s Anna, and her being a seven year old girl does give everything a different edge (Fløttum was actually nine at the time of shooting).

There are clear challenges in society for girls as there are for women and the film could be seen as an allegory for this if you chose. Needless to say young Ida is forced to defy societal norms and stands up to some extreme circumstances. You go girl!

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The Innocents is cinemas and on streaming now.

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