In “The Innocents,” the children in a small Norwegian village are anything but. (Photo courtesy IFC Films)
Not Rated. In Norwegian with subtitles. On VOD.
From the co-writer of the Academy Award-nominated “The Worst Person in the World” (and with the same title as a 1961 film adaptation of Henry James’ ghost story “The Turn of the Screw”), “The Innocents” is a scary, deep dive into the dark realms of troubled, Nordic childhoods, featuring a superior cast of child actors. Written and directed by Eskil Vogt (“Thelma”), “The Innocents” is nothing less than a Norwegian “Village of the Damned.” It opens with a shot of doll-like, freckle-faced Ida (Rakel Lennora Flottum) who is seated in a car beside her tall, autistic, older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), who makes indecipherable, grunting noises.
They are driving with their mother (Ellen Dorrit Pedersen) and father (Morten Svartveit) to a housing estate that will be their new home. Notably, mysterious dense woods surround the area where the tall, working-class apartment buildings stand. Auto tires serve as the seats of swings in the playground. Elementary school-age Ida faces the prospect of a new home, new school and new friends with a mix of resignation and curiosity. She meets Ben (Sam Ashraf), a dark-haired boy of immigrant descent, who asks Ida if she “wants to see something.” The “something” turns out to be a demonstration of telekinesis by which Ben changes the direction of a falling plastic cap, whipping it sideways.
Walking outside with Anna, Ida also meets Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), a young girl with vitiligo and a mother (Kadra Yusuf), who suffers from depression. Aisha quickly develops a telepathic bond with Anna. Soon, the four children have developed a joint telepathic union and play mind games with one another. Anna even learns to speak a few words. Ben appears to be the victim of abuse. His mother (Lisa Tonne) neglects him. We wonder what her boyfriend does to him. His telekinesis skills grow much stronger. Anna appears to have such powers as well, at least when Aisha is nearby.
As is frequently the case, “The Innocents” makes it clear children are by no means innocent. Resentful about the attention Anna gets, Ida puts broken glass into her sister’s shoe. She and Ben drop a cat from upper floors to see if it lands on its feet. Ben, as it turns out, is even more sadistic, and like a troubled and bullied boy growing into adulthood, his sadism gets worse. Soon, he finds that he can control other people, including adults. Anna, who is comforted by spinning the lids of pots and pans and listening to the rhythmic sound they make, can apparently keep the lids spinning using her mind. Like the Netflix smash “Stranger Things,” “The Innocents” keeps the Stephen King lids spinning. A spooky, minimalist score by Pessi Levanto (“Psychosia”) helps rattle your nerves, if not your lids. Vogt gets uniformly terrific performances from the child actors. While the film can be confusing on a couple of points and you may wonder why Vogt chose to make a dark-skinned boy the villain of his story, however diverse, “The Innocents” is a first-rate addition to the list of superior genre films from abroad.
(“The Innocents” contains violence and gruesome images)