Film review: The Innocents

An original and tense psychological horror from Norwegian film maker Eskil Vogt

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Films that focus on children have a particularly chilling place in the horror film canon and The Innocents (from 20 May, Home, Manchester and regionwide) is a worthy addition to the genre. This Norwegian film, written and directed by Eskil Vogt, who also wrote this year’s Academy and Bafta-nominated The Worst Person in the World, gets under the skin from the start and features some startling performances by its four lead child actors.

The film takes place in a lakeside housing estate over one summer, when most of the other residents are away on holiday. Nine-year-old Ida arrives with her family, including her severely autistic older sister Anna, and they soon join up with two other misfit children on the estate, Ben and Aisha. There’s trouble brewing from the start, as Ida quietly tortures her older sister, who cannot speak, by pinching her when no one is looking and even placing pieces of glass in her shoes. When Ida meets Ben, who is similarly lonely and disturbed, the pair seem to bond over the pleasure they get from inflicting pain on things around them – cat lovers look away now.

But there’s something even more disturbing at work here. Ben reveals that he has telekinetic powers and, as he learns to master his skill, can also control other people’s actions. Meanwhile Aisha has mind-reading abilities and can connect with Anna, who herself possess some mysterious abilities, in ways that no one else is able to. As the children become more powerful, their play takes a malevolent turn.

The Innocents is a masterpiece in the slow build but when the horror really kicks in, it does so with surprisingly gory and shocking effect. Vogt never falls back on traditional creepy horror tropes in the film, however. There are few dark shadows and sudden creaks and bangs in the film. Indeed, for the most part, bright Nordic sunlight washes over the horror that unfolds. Nor are there simple answers presented for what occurs. All four children are at an age where they are learning the difference between right and wrong, but their powers mean that the consequences of their actions are ever more terrible. The result is one of the cleverest and most disturbing films that I’ve seen in a long time.

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