The horror genre has always embraced the archetype of “the creepy child”. Most of the time you want to yell at the screen at every other character to remove themselves from the presence of said creepy child best they fall prey to whatever creepy plot they have concocted. In Norwegian thriller The Innocents, the children on hand are indeed creepy, but they’re a little more subtle about it, presenting their gradual brutality to each other away from the watchful eyes of their trusting parents, lending Eski Vogt’s supernaturally inclined film an air of unsettlement that proves entirely difficult to turn away from – as much as you may want to.
Young Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) is set up as the film’s gateway into the eventual proceedings that lace the narrative with a discomforting brutality. Moving into a new block of apartments with her family, Ida and her older, non-verbal, autistic sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), become fast friends with two other building residents, Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) and Ben (Sam Ashraf). There’s an initial light-heartedness and harmless mischief to their meetings, but it soon becomes evident that Ben has harnessed a supernatural ability, and being in his presence seems to unlock similar advances for Ida, Anna, and Aisha.
The casual cruelty that most children adhere to – usually in a manner that has little-to-no malicious intent behind it, being more fuelled by curiosity – is something Vogt explores with an organic horror throughout. The attention Anna receives clearly upsets Ida, being young enough to harbour resentment, but old enough to know Anna’s disability requires constant supervision. It doesn’t stop her from indulging in a few pranks, all of which go unnoticed by her parents and appear lost on her sister. In Ben, Ida finds a kindred spirit. He has a cruel streak that she initially finds enjoyable, but his sadism soon takes shape, culminating in a wholly disturbing sequence involving animal abuse that I suspect will test many a viewer.
From hereon, Ida and Ben become something of adversaries, and the film slowly burns as their abilities grow and intertwine with each other. The film’s sunny setting of a Scandinavian summer further fuels the false sense of security The Innocents provides. So many horror films indulge in the physical darkness, here, the fun and security of the daylight practically enhances the terror, with so much of their brutality playing out obliviously to the nearby parents. And even when there’s nothing sinister taking place, Vogt has filled the air with such dread that you feel on edge in practically every moment, seemingly certain you’ll have the rug pulled out from under you. It’s an exhausting film, but quietly so, and when the final credits roll you’ll feel relief to finally catch your own breath.
The loss of innocence and how that can manifest in each individual child constantly keeps The Innocents an equally savage and emotional film. The term growing pains has never felt more apt, with Vogt creating a deep, dark tale of violent affectation in the guise of a supernaturally inclined horror film.
The Innocents is screening in limited Australian theatres from May 19th, 2022.