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.