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The Innocents

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Every child is a blessing; That is unless they are a character in a horror film.

From The Omen (1976) to just about every Stephen King adaptation, spooky kids are as much of a staple in horror storytelling as roaring chainsaws and black cats.

Continuing this eerie trope – expressing how youngsters are shaped by their upbringing – is the impressively crafted Norwegian thriller, The Innocents (De uskyldige)

In writer-director Eskil Vogt’s (most notable for co-writing the screenplay for The Worst Person in the World (2021)) cinematic contraceptive, kids are not only magically gifted but are out for blood.

It is holiday time for the children of Norway, with the youngsters who remain at a colourless apartment complex – surrounded by beguiling woodland – coming from households who work the hardest to make ends meet. When Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) – a nine-year-old with a penchant for outdoors and overalls – and her family arrive, the once unassuming location begins to crack under the suddenly activated supernatural pressures.

Ida’s older sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), is the most indomitable, with her psychic abilities rivalling that of any character from the MCU. The siblings spend their days exploring the grounds with neighbours Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) and Benjamin (Sam Ashraf), indulging in light-hearted telekinesis and telepathy (as kids do). It is Benjamin who proves the most high-strung of the bunch, with Vogt correlating his hardships – coming through the form of bullying and abuse at home – with his psychopathic tendencies. It is when he is ridiculed that the playfulness stops, with the film’s antics shifting from playfulness to violent acts of aggression.

Understanding that Benjamin has gone too far, the children unite to thwart his bloody vengeance, using their abilities to dispel whatever innocence the film’s title, ironically, implies they have.

Vogt is a subtle filmmaker that works the long game when it comes to establishing atmosphere. He utilises a subtle score and warm visuals to create a palpable feeling of unease. Even when bones break and the blood spills, Vogt never deviates from this understated delivery. That said, some scenes do struggle under the hammy manner in which powers are executed, with shots of strained faces on screen for arduous periods draining the tension of the scene. Performance wise, Vogt has assembled an impressive cast of actors, with particular praise for the leading sister pairing.

Vogt’s thriller is a sterling example of a harrowing atmosphere at its most subdued. The saying goes that you should never work with children or animals, and The Innocents will have you believe that this is not because of an incapability to follow instruction but to avoid all chances of triggering their supernatural potential.

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It is an enormous 1,138 page novel from Maine’s maestro of the macabre, Stephen King. It was released in 1986 and remains one of the most iconic horror novels of all time. It spans eras, time, dimensions and, frankly, is close to unadaptable. That hasn’t stopped people from trying, mind you.

In 1990 the US ABC network had a crack with a 3+ hour miniseries that was released in other territories as a really long “movie”. It featured a bloodless, bare bones retelling of the book’s biggest beats – but was too truncated and toothless to capture the menace and suspense of the novel. Although Tim Curry was fun as the villain.

In 2009 director of the “good season” of True Detective, Cary Fukunaga, attempted an ambitious take on the book that ultimately fell through due to that most nefarious Hollywood monster, “creative differences”.

That brings us to 2017. It, directed by Andrés Muschietti (Mama) is finally here, and the result is likely to have Stephen King fans and general audiences alike riveted. After 31 long, grumpy years they finally made an It adaptation worthy of the source material.

For those who haven’t made the literary journey into King’s masterpiece, It tells the tale of a group of kids – a self described “Loser’s Club” – who live in the strange and eerie town of Derry, Maine. Children have been disappearing in Derry and when Bill Denbrough’s (Jaeden Lieberher) little brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is taken by something lurking in the sewers, it begins an adventure that is part coming of age story/part unrelenting horror rollercoaster.

From the arm-ripping opening sequence It lets you know it’s not fucking around. This is a horror movie with a capital “H” and isn’t trying to pretend otherwise. Bill Skarsgård delivers an eerie performance as the main form of the titular menace, Pennywise the Dancing Clown. His drooling, wall-eyed Pennywise manages to straddle the line between absurdity and fear; making him a fascinating monster to watch.

The Losers are also fantastic for the most part, with superb takes on the characters of Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard) and Eddie Kaspbrak (Jack Dylan Grazer). Of course with a cast this large some characters get short shrift, and sadly Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) feels relegated to a near cameo, with most of his character work given to Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), which will have ardent fans of the book baffled.

While we’re talking negatives it has to be said that not all of the horror beats land. There’s a sense that director Andrés Muschietti really wants to make sure everyone in the damn audience is scared, so he’ll often machine gun the horror right into your face, noisily and prolifically. That said, when it does land it does so beautifully, often cleverly juxtaposed with a moment of laugh out loud humour or genuine pathos.

It is not a perfect adaptation. At 135 minutes It is long for a movie and yet doesn’t even cover 50% of the book. While the book becomes a strange, surreal tale of interdimensional chaos, the movie veers more towards a pulpy popcorn horror experience. The good news is: it’s a really bloody good pulpy, popcorn experience.

Ultimately It is a big, ballsy, crowd-pleasing monster movie with wonderful characters, creative scares and a sense of style and place that anchors the tall tale. It’s dense with wonderful little touches, stylish flourishes and pathos that actually works. Put simply, It is very likely to be the best wide release horror movie of 2017 and the best executed Stephen King adaptation in a long damn time.