Last year, the Norwegian thriller The Innocents debuted at the Cannes Film Festival. On the surface, The Innocents like another entry in the creepy kids subgenre with a supernatural twist thrown in for good measure. Plenty of sci-fi movies (Village of the Damned) and Stephen King novels (Firestarter, Carrie) have explored the premise of children gifted with dangerous powers. Writer and director Eskil Vogt adds another wrinkle by taking his story down a similar path as Chronicle and Brightburn. But if the strong reviews are any indication, Vogt manages to tell a very different story from the one you might be expecting.
When her father takes a new job, eight-year-old Ida moves to an apartment complex in a new city along with her older autistic older sister, Anna. To make matters worse, it’s summer and many families have left for vacation. But Ida and Anna each find a new friend to play and explore around their new home. As the bond between the four friends grows, they each discover they have unique psychic powers. What starts as children’s games, however, quickly turns deadly as one member of the group takes his powers too far.
The Innocents Takes a More Contemplative Approach to its Story
If the premise sounds familiar, writer and director Eskil Vogt subverts expectations with approach and execution. As compared to Chronicle or Brightburn, The Innocents is a thoughtful slow burn that never gives in to the temptation to let grandiose action and effects take over the story. Everything about this Norwegian thriller, including its climax, feels understated. As a result, The Innocents occasionally drags, particularly in its middle act, and its ending perhaps underwhelms. Though there’s a sense of dread hanging over much of the movie, at nearly two hours, Vogt can’t always maintain that tension. Yet it’s also this naturalistic approach to the subject that makes the developing story and violence more impactful.
Everything about this Norwegian thriller, including its climax, feels understated.
Where The Innocents also steers away from mainstream expectations is in Vogt’s approach to the subject. He drops audiences into a children’s world where adults are mostly absent. And these child characters act and talk like children. Vogt never offers an explanation for what happens. Like the children’s themselves, we’re left to try and understand what’s happening. And unlike most horror movies, The Innocents doesn’t shy away from showing violence committed by and against its characters. If the horror elements are subtle, they are no less disturbing, which includes an upsetting scene of animal cruelty.
The Innocents a Morally Complex Examination of Childhood Innocence
Alongside a methodically unsettling style, Vogt invests The Innocents with complex moral questions. As its title implies, The Innocents contrasts the innocence and often cruel world of early childhood. Vogt’s narrative choice to leave adults in the background feels intentional. That is, it’s a story decision that allows the filmmaker to explore his child characters’ often shocking callousness in the absence of a developed moral code. And The Innocents poses more challenging questions as its characters diverge from one another. While some seemingly grasp ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ others lose themselves in their new powers. Regardless no one is ‘innocent’ by the thriller’s conclusion leaving viewers with more unsettling questions.
As its title implies, The Innocents contrasts the innocence and often cruel world of early childhood.
Arguably, one of the thriller’s more subtle feats is what Vogt achieves with such a young cast. Child actors are often hit and miss. And The Innocents asks a lot of its child performers. Across the board, all four child actors exceed expectations giving naturalistic performances. Its these performances that reinforce the fact that all of these frightening and violent scenarios involves children. That is, there’s a certain amount of sadness watching these characters lose their innocence that wasn’t present in the same way as the similarly-themed Chronicle. Though her role is smaller,
The Innocents a Quietly Disturbing Thriller
The Innocents is a quiet, understated horror movie that’s no less disturbing. In fact, Vogt’s decision to set the narrative entirely in the world the thriller’s children makes the sparse violence all the more shocking. On one hand, The Innocents is thoughtful, complex, and refuses to spoon feed audiences. Yet its deliberate pacing may lose some viewers. Moreover, Vogt’s subtly may leave some viewers underwhelmed, particularly by the finale. Nonetheless, Vogt skillfully balances challenging moral questions with genre expectations in one of the more chilling thrillers in recent memory.