REVIEW: ‘The Innocents’ is a Kick in the Teeth

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The Innocents - But Why Tho

I can handle a lot in horror films. Buckets of blood, French torture renaissance, and of course, general trauma exploration. My thick skin is what makes films like The Innocents feel like an absolute kick in my teeth. A slow-burning force of nature, The Innocents from IFC Midnight shocks and unsettles without heavy reliance on gore. Instead, the film’s ability to capture the loss of innocence and violence caused by childish emotions and curiosity kept me anxious and distraught throughout my entire viewing.

Directed and written by Eskil Vogt, The Innocents follows four children who become friends during the summer holidays after Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) move into the apartment building. Each touched by more adult responsibility or circumstance that they shouldn’t experience, the four take advantage of their time together, relying on each other for every emotion and connection. Out of sight of the adults, the four begin to discover they have hidden powers. As jealousy and curiosity about death build,  the children’s innocent exploration of their newfound abilities in the nearby forests and playgrounds, takes a dark turn. The film stars Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Sam Ashraf, Ellen Dorrit Pedersen, Morten Svartveit, Kadra Yusuf, and Lisa Tønne.

The Innocents is slow-moving and calm, allowing the moments of violence to echo across the film. Nothing about the film is overstuffed. Instead, every power and choice is allowed to breathe. At first, the story is simple. The four kids each deal with an element of their life pulling them from childhood. Only able to escape it while together, as the powers manifest, hope begins to spring forward as they play and learn more. But the impact they have with their power turns ugly as one of them decides to solve their problems violently after realizing how powerful he feels exerting control over others.

The film’s first act is impeccably paced. Vogt takes the time to paint a picture of the children, their lives, and circumstances. Instead of treating them as children in a film, Vogt makes sure to explore them as dynamic and changing characters and still doesn’t lose sight of their age. This means that as the film transitions into its darkness, Vogt unsettles by centering the violence from their childlike perspectives. In one scene that results in the death of an animal, one child looks on in fear, unsure about the reality of death but aware that it feels long, while the other killing the cat is amazed with the cat’s ability to survive and their power to end it all.

The Innocents is about how the world pushes us and how we give into it. On the one hand, the film’s violence is an escape for some, and on the other, it’s a cause of fear and victimization. But ultimately, Vogt isn’t telling an evil superman story like Brightburn. Instead, he’s suggesting something more nuanced. He’s exploring the ways children should be watched after, cared for, and protected by highlighting what happens when all of that fails. The Innocents is an exploration of morality through a child’s eyes, and that doesn’t mean that it’s inherently kind or good. Instead, morality ebbs and flows with their emotions; when power comes into the mix, the outcome is unnerving.

While Vogt doesn’t use grand violent moments or mountains of gore, his choice to showcase injury as realistically as possible carries with it a somber and devastating blow as the film pulls into its third act and the story ends. As much as the film’s story is gripping, the young actors pull you in, haunting you from one scene to the next. Their caliber of expression and exploration is matched by their naivete and malice as the film continues. Stars, all of them, without ample dialogue, their actions speak loudly, carried by an immersive sound design that aims to break you.

The Innocents is a painful watch. It’s crafted to make the adults in the audience writhe in their seats and uncover the things we fear most about the most vulnerable around us. Eskil Vogt knows how to keep the pressure on his viewer in the subtlest of ways. Sound, characters, and violence converge with a shaking impact that marks The Innocents as one of my favorite horror films of the last decade.

The Innocents is available on VOD on May 13, 2022.


The Innocents
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    Rating - 10/10
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TL;DR

The Innocents is a painful watch. It’s crafted to make the adults in the audience writhe in their seats and uncover the things we fear most about the most vulnerable around us. Eskil Vogt knows how to keep the pressure on his viewer in the subtlest of ways. Sound, characters, and violence converge with a shaking impact that marks The Innocents as one of my favorite horror films of the last decade.