The Innocents – Review
During the bright Nordic summer, a group of children reveal their dark and mysterious powers when the adults aren't looking. In this original and gripping supernatural thriller, playtime takes a dangerous turn.
We have one week left of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature and today we are heading to Norway with Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents. This is another movie that may be trending towards not being a horror. As I have said many times before, the horror genre is ridiculously broad and movies can be hard to categorise. I think there are enough horror elements here for The Innocents to count so I’m going to include it. Obviously this is a Norwegian movie so expect to watch a subtitled version. It may receive a dub at some point but subs are the best way to watch foreign movies anyway imo.
I’m a big fan of Scandinavian horror. There seems to be a unique style to them and the incredible scenery makes for perfect horror environments. I was torn between a few different Norwegian movies to include in this list. I decided to go with The Innocents as a few of the others are a little more divisive. One of my favourites is Thale but there are plenty of people who really don’t like it. I will review it at some point in the future but I decided to leave it out of the K-O-Ween feature. The Innocents is a supernatural horror, thriller that is somewhat reminiscent of movies like Chronicle and Carrie. Without further ado, let’s take a look. As always, I will include a quick breakdown of the movie so feel free to skip that if you like.
We have been reviewing a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022 leading up to Halloween. I intended these reviews to be a bit of a shorter format but it kind of didn’t work out that way. Still, we have one week remaining so keep checking back. We are featuring a range of movies from horror classics to international hits and a few indie darlings. You can check out the entire K-O-Ween feature by clicking right here.
The Innocents – Review
The Innocents follows the story of Ida, a young girl played by Rakel Lenora Fløttum, and her autistic sister Anna, played by Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, as they move to a new apartment with their parents. Anna is non-communicative and seemingly responds only to certain stimuli. She engages in repetitive actions and appears to be somewhat unaware of her surroundings. Travelling in the car Ida pinches Anna on the leg though she seemingly doesn’t respond to the pain.
When the family arrive at the new apartment, Ida decides to go outside. Walking up to a pond, she begins cruelly stepping on an earthworm, pushing it into the water with her foot. Across the pond she spots a young boy called Ben, played by Sam Ashraf, staring back at her. The next day, Ida is wandering around the grounds of the apartment block. The young boy she saw the day before approaches her and says hi. He asks her if she wants to come and see something. Ida agrees and the two head off to a wooded area. Ben shows Ida how he can manipulate small objects using his mind. Impressed, Ida attempts to copy him but can’t do it.
A Cruel Turn – Synopsis Cont.
Ida, seemingly suffering from early signs of a developing personality disorder, places glass into her sister’s shoes. The family head out to the doctors so her parents can discuss Anna’s development. Meanwhile, a young girl called Aisha, played by Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, combs her doll’s hair. Dressed to head outside, Aisha puts her foot in her shoe only to pull it out in pain and covered in blood. It’s apparent that Aisha has a type of empathetic power that allows her to experience other people’s pain and thoughts. It would also seem that Anna and her have some type of connection as Aisha is suffering the pain caused by the glass in Anna’s shoe that Anna is unable to express.
The next day, Anna and Ida go outside to play. Ben arrives and asks Ida if she wants to come and hang out. Ida agrees and leaves Anna alone on the swings. Ida and Ben spend time together and, while Ben has his top off, Ida notices that he has a severe bruise to his ribs. The pair find a cat near the wooded area that they play in and begin stroking it. Ida bundles it up into a shirt and the two run off with the cat, laughing. Back at the swings, Anna is approached by Aisha who sits with her and chats. It becomes clear that Aisha can hear Anna’s thoughts.
In the meantime, Ida and Ben have climbed to the top of the staircase of the apartment building. Ben scruffs the cat and, with Ida’s encouragement, drops it through the gaps in the stairs. The cat drops all the way to the bottom but, somehow, survives albeit with a horrible limp. The pair search for the cat in the basement of the building finding it close to death at the end of a hallway. The events that follow make it very apparent that, despite both of them being troubled, Ben is suffering from deep psychological problems that are only going to get worse. Combined with his growing power, everyone around him is potentially at risk.
Chronicle With Preteens
Everyone remembers Chronicle, right? A group of friends develop superpowers, one of them has a terrible home life, goes rogue and starts tearing shit up. It’s a tale as old as time. Brightburn is another one that has tackled this plot but with a slightly different spin and it is impossible not to mention Carrie. The Innocents aims to mix things up a little by bringing the story to a European location and with a cast of preteens.
Although it is something that has most definitely been done before, The Innocents may be the best example. It is bleak, horribly cruel, intensely disturbing and incredibly well acted. Where Chronicle felt like a superhero movie villain origin story, The Innocents feels like a realistic portrayal of the consequences of abuse on young children. Starting off as a family drama about a young girl living with a neuro-divergent sibling who demands the majority of attention from her parents. The Innocents quickly changes into a study on the effects of neglect on adolescents, be it through violence or a simple lack of one to one attention.
The children have a variety of, what can only be described as, super powers that gradually become stronger. Aisha is empathetic and can hear the thoughts of the other characters, particularly Anna, and Ben can manipulate people and objects. Ida is yet to find her power. Anna, however, has what appears to be an incredible ability that only seems to come out when Aisha is used as something of a conduit.
Perhaps using psychic powers as a metaphor for the more literal actions carried out by victims of childhood trauma. We are introduced to a group of characters who are all at pivotal stages in their mental development. The Innocents presents us with a number of different children who are all distinctly different.
A girl frustrated about the amount of attention her disabled sister demands and heading down a path of intense cruelty. A young boy horribly abused by his mother, bullied by other teens, and wishing revenge on those around him. An autistic teen with significant developmental issues and a young girl full of empathy and kindness attempting to look after the people around her. The Innocents presents its characters with both nuance and depth.
An Important Warning
If you are just going to scroll down to the summary of the review at least take a second to read this. I feel as though it is always important to point out scenes that I think may upset certain people. The Innocents features one of the most graphic and realistic depictions of violence against an animal I have ever seen.
I would not normally mention significant plot points in a synopsis but this particular scene demanded mention. I’ll hide the description behind spoiler tags as even typing it out is pretty graphic to be fair. I am happy to confirm, despite this, that no animals were harmed during the making of the movie. I don’t think this scene is worthy of criticising the films as a whole, either. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that the scene featuring Ida and Ben torturing a cat is one of the most brutal in recent horror history.
If you are a cat lover, this is going to upset you, I guarantee it. I am more of a rat lover than a cat lover but, above all else, I am an animal lover. This scene is both unnecessary and likely to make some people feel sick. If you are a lover of animals and are upset by seeing them hurt in movies, you should most definitely skip The Innocents. You can skip these scenes if you want to watch the movie: when you get to 23:30 skip to 26:40. Ida returns to the basement later on to find Ben has been interfering with the dead cat’s body. If you wish to skip this then when you get to 28:40 skip to 30:50.
Stop With The Violence Against Animals
I am sick to the back teeth of adding the “Violence against animals” tag to every other horror movie I review. The scenes are becoming more frequent, more violent, and far more drawn out. If I could say one thing to the makers of these films it would be to stop perpetuating violence to animals in your movies.
It is uninventive, cheap, and makes me immediately think you had no other way to provoke a reaction. Get some fucking creativity, for fuck’s sake. It’s old, boring, and done to death.
Brutal, Bleak, and Somewhat Depressing
The Innocents seems to give a knowing nod to movies like Let The Right One In. Aside from the similar locations of an apartment tower block, the film feels, at times, hopeless and bleak in much the same way. Every character presented to the viewer has depth and seems to be somewhat troubled. The children have varying issues and the homelives of all of them are, at the very least, complicated. The thing that makes The Innocents so much more impactful with this, however, is just how realistic it is.
The movie pulls absolutely no punches. The cruelty and brutality of the childhoods that so many people actually experience is recreated for everyone to see. I have seen people complaining that the portrayal of the children, and their lives, is unrealistic. Some people said that children would never be this cruel in real life. That displays such a naïve lack of understanding of the realities of life for abused children. The cycle of abuse and violence leads children to perform incredible acts of cruelty towards animals, siblings, and other children. This is fact! If you have lived a sheltered enough life to believe that children don’t act like this then perhaps it is time for you to wake up. There is a world that exists outside of your bubble and it is often a brutal one.
The Innocents does not beat around the bush at all. It presents the result of abuse with frightening realism and feels incredibly apt for a time when school shootings and violence between children is becoming the norm. There is a bleakness to the film that stays throughout and peaks in one particularly crushing moment later on. For the most part, there is very little to smile about here and the movie should be commended for its commitment to giving us a realistic story, despite the supernatural elements.
Incredible Acting and Cinematography
The child cast of The Innocents are absolutely incredible. To think these actors are playing nuanced character with significant complexity and depth while being so young is incredibly impressive. Rakel Lenora Fløttum as Ida and Sam Ashraf as Ben are both fantastic. They both present their characters with believability and the range of emotions they display is very impressive. Mina Asheim as Aisha is simply brilliant. Rarely do you see such an honestly likeable character in a horror movie. She manages to elicit genuine care from the audience and you will absolutely buy into her performance 100%.
It is, however, Alva Ramstad as Anna that deserves special mention. Never in a movie have I seen such a convincing and accurate portrayal of a non-communicative neuro-divergent person. I have a close relative with autism and have visited autistic schools frequently. Alva’s portrayal of low functioning autism was both incredibly accurate and very sympathetic. It is a brilliant insight into the struggles of a family with an autistic child and she deserve all the praise in the world for the work she must have put into creating such a sympathetic character. I hope she enjoys an incredible career because, if this performance is any indication, she has buckets of talent.
Cinematography is beautiful. The environment is gloomy and a bit depressing but that only adds to the mood of the movie. There is a dreamy haze to many scenes and some of the shots are really inspired. I particularly enjoyed some of the later scenes that showed us what some of the characters see when exposed to a certain character’s psychic powers. These scenes are genuinely scary though I believe they could have been expanded on a bit more.
Slow Paced, Not Scary and Probably a Bit Too Long
The Innocents is incredibly slow paced. It is glacial, in fact, clocking in at a ridiculously long 117 minutes. This wouldn’t be so bad but the movie does feel as though it dwells on a few scenes that it doesn’t need to. The pacing is not always particularly smooth. The ending, for example, feels like it drags its feet a fair bit. I think 25 minutes could have been cut out with no major impact to the plot. I think this would have massively improved pacing, as well.
This is definitely going to put some people off. I have watched plenty of movies that don’t feel their length but The Innocents is not one of them. I am a huge slow burn horror fan but not everyone is and it may be simply too slow for some people. It is worth mentioning, as well, that the movie isn’t particularly scary. I know that The Innocents is barely a horror movie as it is but there are some scenes in there that definitely lean more towards horror than thriller. For the most part, you will likely find yourself more disturbed than scared. There are a lot of unsettling scenes, graphic injury detail, and legitimately uncomfortable situations that will keep you on edge.
Is it a Knockout?
Brutal, bleak, and incredibly realistic, Eskil Vogt's The Innocents is a supernatural horror movie focusing on a group of children developing special powers against a background of abuse, neglect, and difficult home lives. Featuring gorgeous cinematography and incredible acting, The Innocents pulls absolutely no punches.
A particularly gruesome scene featuring the torture of a cat bears mention for animal lovers but no animals were harmed during production. The Innocents commits fully to its portrayal of the cruelty that some kids experience and, indeed, can inflict. Very slow paced and probably about 20 minutes too long, the slow burn nature may not be for everyone. While not being a traditional horror, there are enough elements here to keep horror fans engaged. The brutal nature and constant tension is plenty to keep you on edge and an impactful, yet incredibly sad last quarter pays the movie off well. Well worth a watch for any fans of supernatural horror.