Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
The Unsettling Rise of a Heartless Supervillain
In The Innocents, Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum), her sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), and her parents move to a new town during the summer when Ida’s father gets a new job. Most of the families are on summer vacation, so Ida is left to her own boredom. Anna is autistic and receives most of the attention from Ida’s parents because of it. Feeling envious and alone, Ida is generally left being bored by herself.
Ida meets a boy named Ben (Sam Ashraf) that can control things with his mind. Their relationship begins as two young kids doing whatever they can to pass the time, but it slowly evolves into something much darker. Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) is also a young girl in the same neighborhood with a skin disorder called vitiligo; a loss of pigmented cells in the skin. Aisha can hear people’s thoughts and feel their pain when they get injured.
The four of them play together, away from adults, on a daily basis and explore what they can and can’t do with their newfound powers. But their neighbors begin to get killed off one by one and although the adults don’t suspect a thing the kids know that one of their childish foursome is to blame for the grisly deaths.
The Innocents is a Norwegian supernatural thriller from writer and director Eskil Vogt (writer of Thelma and The Worst Person in the World). Considering the concept of the film, it’s easy to compare The Innocents to something like X-Men or The Avengers, but it’s actually more similar to a film like Chronicle as one of the four kids is on a murderous path to becoming a heartless supervillain
Blurs the Line Between Telekinesis and Empathy
The film does include some animal cruelty that is not fun to sit through. It’s not overly graphic and all of the gruesome bits are mostly done off screen or from far away. It also serves a purpose to show that one of the kids already has no remorse for other living creatures. But even with all of that in mind, the fact that you have to see an animal suffer for as long as it does still sucks.
There obviously wasn’t a huge financial budget in The Innocents, so they had to find a way to portray supernatural powers in more frugal and creative ways. When someone in the neighborhood gets hurt bad enough to bleed, Aisha sees that blood on herself or on her mother. The kids also seem to be at their strongest when they’re all together serving as conduits for each other to hear whispered words from far away or finally speaking your first words after not saying anything for years.
One of the kids is able to, “fetch,” other people meaning they can take over someone else’s body and make them do whatever they see fit. The film shows that these individuals are taken to a kind of shadow realm while under this child’s control and are forced to fight back against what they think is a monster. They then wake back up in the real world only to realize that they’ve killed someone close to them. This all leads to a final showdown on a playground in broad daylight after all of the families have returned from summer vacation. It’s a bit more anticlimactic than you’d like it to be since the film spends an hour and 45 minutes leading up to these final crucial ten minutes of storytelling. It makes sense from a writing standpoint, but those expecting something gruesome or visually spectacular are bound to be disappointed.
All of the main kids mature in their own way throughout the 117-minute duration of The Innocents. Ben starts out barely being able to throw a bottle cop around in the air and is able to break tree branches in half later on. Aisha is so empathetic that it begins to bring out the best in Anna as she not only starts showing signs of her own powers, but her condition improves as well. Anna’s story is perhaps the most interesting of the film. At the beginning of the film, she’s trapped within the confines of an incurable disorder that is only getting worse the older she gets. Perhaps it’s because she’s able to overcome those obstacles that she ends up being the most powerful kid of the four.
The Innocents taps into that boredom you’re faced when you were younger when there was no one to play with and you didn’t know what to do with yourself. The Ida character toys with doing darker things and being a curious tomboy that bites off more than she can chew on most occasions. And while it doesn’t execute everything to its fullest potential, The Innocents is a gradual, unnerving swell of a thriller that takes its time crafting each superhuman element of its familiar yet expertly ominous approach to a film featuring kids with powers. It’s been a long time anything superpower related has felt this somber and spellbinding.
© 2022 Chris Sawin