THE INNOCENTS movie poster | ©2022 IFC Midnight

THE INNOCENTS movie poster | ©2022 IFC Midnight

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashrad, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Morten Svartveit, Kadra Yusuf, Lisa Tønne
Writer: Eskil Vogt
Director: Eskil Vogt
Distributor: IFC Midnight
Release Date: May 13, 2022

THE INNOCENTS (DE USKYLDIGE) plays something like a Stephen King story with different cultural sensibilities. Given the fact that most of the protagonists are nine years old, it immediately has more darkness than we’d imagine an American version might. It also has some social peculiarities that someone more knowledgeable than this reviewer will have to deduce whether these are typically Norwegian or specific to writer/director Eskil Vogt.

Little Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) is introduced during a car ride with her parents (Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Morten Svartveit) and older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad). The family is on their way to a large apartment complex on the outskirts of a large city, bordered by a wood.

Ida is not thrilled about the move, especially as it’s summer and most of the other local kids are on vacation. She’s also unhappy about being asked to look after Anna, as Anna is autistic, non-speaking and virtually non-responsive.

However, while Ida is exploring the neighborhood, she is approached by Ben (Sam Ashrad), a boy her own age. Ben is able to do minor telekinetic tricks, Ida is impressed.

Meanwhile, Ida does some mean things to Anna, presumably trying to provoke a reaction. Anna seems impervious to pain, even when Ida puts broken glass in her shoe.

However, another young neighbor, Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), finds that she shares a psychic bond with Anna, and a slightly less intense one with Ben. For a little while, the four children enjoy each other’s company and abilities, which are amped up in each other’s presence.

But as powers increase, problems arise.

THE INNOCENTS packs a fair amount of suspense, as it’s unusual to see children so young as potential villains and victims. We’re also not accustomed to having psychic phenomena presented in such a low-key, experimental way. There’s a sense of genuine discovery and surprise here, and for a while, we really can’t predict where this is going, which is refreshing.

As a filmmaker, Vogt comes up with intriguingly disorienting shots, using shadows and perspective to create disconcerting images, like circling cyclists who appear upside-down. The director gets terrific performances from his cast, who express a great deal with relatively little dialogue.

But some of the behavior seems off. For starters, we understand why none of the children attempt to tell their parents what’s happening, but why can’t Ida bring Aisha to the family apartment? It seems like Mom and Dad would be happy to see that Anna’s made a friend, to say nothing of the other ways that Aisha is able to help.

A bigger question is what we’re meant to make of Ben, who kills a cat early on for fun. This isn’t foreshadowing; this is putting up a neon arrow with the word “psychopath” over his head. Still, we seem meant to not anticipate what Ben will do, and feel sympathy for him. We’re also apparently not meant to wonder too much as to why Ida continues to hang around with him afterwards. (And yes, this reviewer is expressing personal disgust at the idea that a nine-year-old killing an animal is the act of an “innocent.”)

By the finale, we do have a notion of where things are headed, but by then, we’ve been through an uncommon experience. Mostly, it’s good for those who like their telekinesis with subtitles (THE INNOCENTS is in Norwegian) and a steady, slow burn.

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