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The Innocents  (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir. Eskil Vogt, Norway/ Sweden/ Denmark/ Finland/ France/ UK, 2021, 117 mins, in Norwegian with subtitles

Cast:  Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashraf

Review by Carol Allen

The title is ironic.   This film at first might appear to be about the innocence of childhood, but writer/director Eskil Vogt’s story soon becomes something much darker. 

A blonde Scandinavian family move into an ethnically diverse block of apartments and their two young daughters make friends with the neighbours’ children.  Anna, the elder (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) is severely autistic and cannot speak.  Ida, her younger sibling (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) is always looking for ways to help and protect her sister.  Their new friends of similar age to little Ida are Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), daughter of a single African mother and Ben, (Sam Ashraf) son of a single Asian mother.

At first, as they just play games together in the apartment playground and the adjoining forest, this does indeed look like we are embarking on a pretty tale about children and their unquestioning acceptance of diversity.  But then the story turns dark and Ben loses our sympathy. when he tortures and kills a cat in front of Ida.

The children then discover that they can communicate with each other telepathically.   Aisha can even use her powers to get Anna to speak – something which rather freaks out Anna’s mum (Ellen Dorrit Petersen).  Ben however, who has a difficult relationship with his mother, develops telekinetic abilities, which he uses to cause a heavy cooking pot full of boiling liquid to attack her.   Shades of Carrie here.

Having found his powers, Ben uses them to take a murderous revenge on others, whom he feels have wronged him and eventually he turns his malice onto his playmates Aisha, Ida and Anna.

The children are predictably brilliant.  You wouldn’t even attempt a story like this if you couldn’t find the right young actors.   Ida is called on to show a considerable range of emotions and Ben, despite that feline murder, manages to gain sympathy as the frightened and confused child in the grip of something he can’t control.  Attention is almost entirely on the children.   The only adult who gets much of a look in is Petersen as Ida and Anna’s mother.

The film builds up its tension effectively with some good moments of shock horror.  Watch out for the snake!   It is though a bit inconsistent in its viewpoint, in the way it switches rather erratically between objectively showing us the effect of Ben’s actions, then switching to the subjective viewpoint of his victim.   It also has a few plot holes.  For example, no-one appears to question the disappearance of Ben’s mother and another being what appears to be Ben’s miraculous survival, when he falls from a bridge onto a busy motorway and is totally unharmed. 

The climax of the film, when Ben is doing his telekinesis number at a lakeside resort with potentially horrific results, floats the interesting idea that all the children realise something is amiss but the adults are totally oblivious.  Director Vogt however fails to explore this and the climax is actually a bit of a damp squib, whereas at that point it is calling out for something really showy and spectacular along the lines of Carrie’s buckets of blood.

So a somewhat flawed piece of work but still worth seeing for the children’s performances alone.

The Innocents – in cinemas and digital 20th May