The Innocents (22nd BUFF)

Traveling in the back seat, young Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) cruelly pinches the thigh of her older, severely autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad).  When the family arrives at their new home in an apartment complex, Ida goes out wandering and meets Ben (Sam Ashraf), who shows off his old treehouse where he used a slingshot to shoot ‘mean’ people and his ability to move a stone with his mind.  But it doesn’t take long for Ida to begin getting uncomfortable around her new friend and when others, including Anna, exhibit psychokinetic powers as well, a battle of good and evil brews among “The Innocents.”

Laura's Review: B+

Norwegian writer/director Eskil Vogt (“Blind”) reexamines the supernatural power of the mind that he delved into as a cowriter on Joachim Trier’s “Thelma,” this time from the perspective of young children.  Where “Thelma” dealt with religious repression and sexuality, this one charts the moral awakening of its young star, but the fact that Ben is the son of a dark skinned immigrant whereas his good counterpart is blonde and blue-eyed is troubling.  Put that aside though and Vogt has created a suspenseful horror film, one which acknowledges both the cruelty and purity of children developing social skills.  Animal lovers are hereby warned however, that the movie contains a disturbing instance of animal abuse.

Anna’s condition necessitates that her mother (Ellen Dorrit Petersen, “Thelma”) focus her attention on the older girl, a possible explanation for Ida’s cruelty.  When Anna breaks a glass, Ida puts shards in the toe of her shoe.  The older girl’s protestations upon having it put on are barely distinguishable from the noises she usually makes and later we will learn Ida believes her sister feels no pain.  She’s corrected by Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), the daughter of another immigrant (Kadra Yusuf) who has a psychic connection with Anna.  (Again, is it noteworthy that Vogt casts a young actress with vitiligo in this part?)

As Ida observes the growing powers of her sister (her newfound interest in taking Anna out surprises her mother, who initially welcomes the break), Ben and Aisha, things become more sinister when Ben discovers he can control more than objects, getting strangers to do his bidding and all the children’s moms become pawns within his game (Ben’s is played by Lisa Tønne). 

Much like Belgium’s Oscar submission “Playground,” the isolation of children within their own world is startlingly realized.  And Vogt’s created a distinctive world, one of bland modern hi rises and planned playgrounds surrounded by cool, dark forests.  Special effects soar because of their very restraint – a dropped pebble skitters sideways, sand ripples away from sneakered feet, Anna’s finger sends running water on a different course.  But perhaps Vogt’s greatest achievement is the assured performances he’s gotten from four children, each tasked with very different modes of expression, Ramstad particularly impressive, young Fløttum walking a very fine line.

Robin's Review: B

A family moves into their new home in the land of the midnight sun. It is the Nordic summer and young Ida explores her new surroundings and begins to make friends. But, there is something evil lurking in the nearby woods and four of the local children develop hidden powers. They soon learn that their new ability is not a game for “The Innocents.”

I have had to really think about sophomore feature director-writer Eskil Vogt’s story to get down to its essence, which is a battle between good and evil. And, those doing this battle are not the warriors you expect, just a bunch of kids.

The story is told, primarily, through the eyes of little Ida (Rakel Lenora Flotum), a curious youngster who makes friends with Benjamin (Sam Ashraf). Ben shows off his newly-discovered telekinetic skills but there is a sadistic streak in the young sociopath which plays out in a gruesome sequence with a cat he dubbed Jabba.

The other two key players are Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), Ida’s older, deeply autistic sister, and Aisha, a diminutive neighbor who displays telepathic and thought transference powers through Anna. The supernatural aspect of the story takes a back seat to the kids and how they deal with their powers. Good and evil are in ample, subtle display and the battle is epic.
How a filmmaker is able to elicit such dark and edgy performances from children has always blown my mind. Eskil Vogt shows tremendous skill in directing his little actors and does so in a very creepy way.

"The Innocents" will be shown as part of the 22nd Boston Underground Film Festival on 3/24/22.  IFC Midnight releases the film in theaters and everywhere you rent movies on 5/13/22.