Intelligent & Horrifying Genre Tale Leaves A Mark

The superhero genre is so popular and so well codified that it's easy to forget what it can feel like with a genuinely fresh perspective. It's possible to watch The Innocents (De uskyldige in the original Norwegian) and not see it in those terms, of course. There are no capes or costumes, no blockbuster action scenes, and really not a whole lot of saving people. But there's something about telling a story with powered individuals that taps into those same, core themes. On the one hand, it's possible to think of this film as a version of 2012's Chronicle without the found-footage element, and focused on much younger, Norwegian-speaking children. On the other, that is an incredibly reductive way to describe a movie that intelligently and empathetically explores what it is to be a child, to have actions with consequences but lack the tools to properly understand them. The Innocents works to keep those two modes, genre film and art film, in stasis, and the resulting movie is one guaranteed to linger in the minds of its viewers for days afterwards.

Written and directed by Eskil Vogt, a 2022 Academy Award nominee for The Worst Person in the World's screenplay, The Innocents follows a small group of children from the same housing complex who become friends over the summer holidays. Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) are new to the neighborhood, and the younger Ida seems to resent having to look after her older, autistic sister. Ben (Sam Ashraf) is shunned by the older local boys and seems to show signs of an abusive home-life, while Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) has a loving mother struggling with sadness, who cries in the kitchen when she thinks her daughter isn't looking. Both come from single-parent families of color, sharp contrasts to Ida and Anna's classically Nordic looks and two-parent home, and it is they who display the first signs of supernatural abilities.

Related: The Worst Person In The World Review: Trier's Oslo Trilogy Finale Is Breathtaking

Ben, as he excitedly shows off to Ida when they first meet, is slightly telekinetic, able to divert the path of a falling stone with just a thought. Aisha is deeply telepathic, able to read the thoughts and emotions of others across long distances, and she develops a special bond with the non-verbal Anna, who blossoms when there is finally someone in her life who can communicate with her. They all play together, and as they do, their powers grow. Soon, what they can do with their minds goes beyond the level of party tricks. They have the makings of heroes (or villains), and another story might see them ascend to these archetypical roles, but here they only skirt at their edges. In this wonderfully observant script, they are first and foremost children, innocent in what they do. But children can be cruel as well as compassionate, and when a kid lashing out in anger or pain or jealousy can do so with supernatural strength, things can get very dark very quickly.

While there are a couple obvious ways this story could go, the languid rhythm The Innocents pulls from the art film makes the ebb and flow of its narrative a little hard to predict, though this aspect of its storytelling yields somewhat mixed results. There are moments when viewers will miss the propulsiveness and sustained tension of its genre influences, whether superhero, sci-fi, or horror, and Vogt's movie could likely have benefitted from some trimming to its nearly two-hour runtime. Then again, it's this same pacing that makes for some uniquely gripping sequences, when the audience catches onto what's about to happen, but The Innocents refuses to speed up. It's a union that could come to be perfected, should the director continue making movies in this vein, but it remains striking here, and what works very much outweighs what doesn't.

It helps that the performances of the child actors are stunningly good. They feel like real children in a way that movie children often do not, and in doing so despite the science-fictional horrors they are asked to confront and process, they keep the story firmly grounded. This quality is what makes Vogt's movie so affecting, and why it doesn't easily fade away from a viewer's mind. From a human nature perspective, what unfolds in The Innocents plays as what could actually happen should kids ever develop fantastical abilities, joys and terrors alike. And, from a superhero perspective, Vogt's movie recaptures that sense of primordial awe that many of today's blockbusters have lost touch with, simply by setting themselves in worlds so obviously distant from everyday life. Whatever its impact upon release, The Innocents seems destined to be remembered, and hopefully the industry will find room for more movies just like it.

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The Innocents released in select theaters and on digital Friday, May 13. The film is 117 minutes long and currently unrated.

Our Rating:

3.5 out of 5 (Very Good)
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Alexander Harrison (434 Articles Published)

Alex is a Movie/TV News Editor & Film Critic at Screen Rant. After graduating from Brown University with a B.A. in English, he spent a locked-down year in Scotland completing a Master’s in Film Studies from the University of Edinburgh, which he hears is a nice, lively city. He now lives in and works from Milan, Italy.

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