Horror Movie Review: The Innocents

In The Innocents, Eskil Voget’s sophomore feature, the kids reign supreme.

It’s the kids, their hones and hormones, that run things around here, starting with a group of skinny, wide-eyed rascals that conjure up powers like X-Men on training wheels.

These powers remain largely on the edges of this horror flick, though it’s alluded to in the gaze of an anxious parent, or a bottle cap somehow landing on its side. Brutalist apartments look down upon the pastoral playground where these events play out; it’s a modern-day parable about the way children feel invincible until they run into real-life issues.

The film starts with a family moving into an apartment with their two children, the youngest of whom, Ida (Rakel Flottum), is our protagonist. She’s curious in ways only children can be, though her curiosity leads to trouble when she pinches her sister, pours glass into someone’s shoe, and drops a cat off a 100-foot stairwell. Cat lovers beware: this doesn’t end well for Kittens.

With most of the locals on summer vacation, Ida goes about her Evil Girl routine before making friends with the resident outcast Ben (Sam Ashraf), who seems to have bruises on his chest and telekinetic powers, or is he pulling a prank? It doesn’t seem like a prank when he snaps a branch in half just by staring at it, nor does it seem like a prank when another girl, Aisha (Mina Ashiem), proves she can communicate with Ida’s non-verbal sister.

A connection is formed, though not between who you would think. Ida now wants to spend time with her sister, who starts to say more words, as well as show more emotion, than she did before. There’s a lovely rapport between them that anyone with siblings can relate to. Ida was embarrassed by Anna (Alva Ramstad), but now she would step in front of a moving vehicle–or a power-hungry Ben– to keep her safe. Ben is threatened by Anna’s telekinetic powers, leading to a string of deaths and the eventual realization that actions have consequences.

Fans of genre cinema, including Voget’s work with Joachim Trier, or the brand of midnight horror for which the film’s distributor is known, may be expecting something a bit more intense from The Innocents, which is mostly a quiet family drama. It’s a different register than your average superhero movie–X-Men this ain’t–but it is always atmospheric, imbuing the town with a soft but eerie unease.

A sense of foreboding hangs over the proceedings, the score grinding with an industrial intonation, humming over the lush forest and its sun-soaked secrets. But fundamentally, The Innocents is a parable, bookended with elements of darker fairy tales; references abound in this film, whether to Peter Pan or Lord of the Flies, two stories about children who gain power but lose control.

The film is more about lessons, and by the time it comes to an end and the training wheels come off, something even more intense than the power of strength or telekinesis emerges–nothing can top the power of love.