Over the course of a bright Nordic summer, when the adults aren’t looking, a group of children begin to reveal their dark and mysterious powers in The Innocents.
Unlike another film about a child with psychic abilities released this week, this tale opts for the slow burn. Indeed, this is a low key (not that one) superhero (or supervillain) origin story. It eschews the current trend for CGI-led action set pieces, instead drawing its power from an ever-stifling atmosphere of dread and exceptional performances from the four lead child actors.
The film allows writer-director Eskil Vogt (writer of Oscar-nominated film The Worst Person in the World) to explore the “nature vs nurture” debate from a supernatural/superpower angle. Children can have a hard enough time growing up before throwing extraordinary abilities into the mix – it’s easy to see how things can go wrong without a guiding hand to show them the way. In any case, it’s not difficult to picture a multiverse where Professor X turns up to enrol them into his School For Gifted Youngsters, perhaps preventing the inevitable tragic fate that otherwise awaits these pre-adolescents.
As their powers grow, The Innocents could easily have opted to go full- Children of the Corn – indeed, one particularly cruel and malicious act will turn many against these younglings – but the film broadly lacks any parental or adult figures. They are absent, both physically and emotionally, and thus the story is told entirely from the point of view of the children. In particular, much of the story is seen through the eyes of Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum), the only one of her peers who does not possess any abilities.
By putting the audience in their shoes, it forces them to sympathise with the children, and even to feel what they feel, including that fateful loss of innocence. Ida is no different from the others. Despite not having powers, she is resentful of her autistic sister and initially complicit in the cruel acts enacted upon residents of the apartment complex in which they reside. Evil is allowed to flourish when good men (or good children?) do nothing, and everyone must eventually decide what side to fall on.
The Innocents makes for some deeply uncomfortable viewing and as such is bound to elicit some strong opinions. For, despite the title and to quote a certain Queen of Pop, these kids are certainly “not that innocent”.
The Innocents is in UK cinemas from May 20th.