Review: A Layer Of Dread Hangs Over Scary 'Innocents'

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday May 13, 2022

'The Innocents'
'The Innocents'  (Source:IFC Midnight)

The Norwegian horror import "The Innocents" has an unsettling mood and a quartet of naturalistic children's performances, but the esoteric nature of the themes might leave some confused.

In simplistic terms, Eskil Vogt (writer of "The Worst Person in the World") has fashioned a sort of superhero and supervillain origin story with kids. We open on a young couple (Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Morten Svartveit) moving to a new apartment compound with their youngest child, Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum), and their eldest, autistic daughter Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad).

Anna spends much of her time staring out blankly, uttering a few noises and spinning the tops of pots and pans in the kitchen. Ida is quietly curious and quickly goes to explore the set of apartment buildings looking to see what's what. It's there she meets Ben (Sam Ashraf), a young boy who has the ability to move things with his mind. Small things, mind you, but Ida is giddily impressed regardless.

As kids are kids, Ida isn't shocked by this, she just thinks it's cool. So does Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), another local child who has a secret ability of her own: She can hear other children's thoughts and communicate with them. This comes in handy when she stumbles upon the silent Anna, and the two become companions. This thrills Ida, because she can spend more time with Sam rather than her big sister.

But Sam's behavior is a little suspect. An incident with a cat is disturbing on a number of levels, and pretty soon he reveals his powers are a little darker than he let on. This leads to our trio of girls having to figure out a way to ensure Sam doesn't hurt them, or anyone else.

Eskil Vogt (who also directs) creates an unsettling mood with his film by giving it a realistic, almost documentary-like feel. The kids he's cast are excellent at making us believe they are just four regular kids with a variety of issues. They never overdo it, and almost seem to be ad-libbing their scenes. These four carry the film, and that's no small feat for children under the age of ten.

While not a scary film, there are moments that will make you gasp, and a layer of dread hangs over the film like moss. The special effects are subtle, which adds to the naturalistic nature of the piece.

The one thing that seems to be missing is an overarching point. Why three of the children have powers is never explained, and the reason for one of them to go bad isn't really explored except for a glimpse into bad parenting. Even the final shot of the film was a bit head-scratching, as it wasn't clear what Vogt was going for.

I don't think this will be a breakout hit, and its slower pace might not appeal to all horror fans, but there is a lot to appreciate here. The dread and the handful of shocking visuals make this stand out, as do the performances by his more-than-able cast.

The kids in this film are far from innocent, but as children explore the world around them — oftentimes accepting the unusual as normal — it's fascinating to see how they deal with things they feel adults wouldn't understand.

"The Innocents" opens in select theaters and On Demand May 13th.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.