Sunday, April 24, 2022

ND/NF ’22: The Innocents

They are sort of like young X-Men, who can amplify their latent psychic powers when banded together. Unfortunately, they probably never should have done so, because one of them is . . . troubled. Coming of age slowly but steadily slides into horror in Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents, which screens as part of the 2022 New Directors/New Films.

Kids can be rotten. Ida proves that through her cruelty to her older sister Anna. She feels like her sibling gets all her parents’ attention due to her severe autism. At this point, Anna has almost no expressive language skills, so the family has to new exurban neighborhood, in hopes that nearby facilities will help treat Anna.

Unbeknownst to Ida, little Aisha seems to undergo experiences that mirror those of Anna, but she is fully aware of her surroundings. In fact, Aisha is keenly aware, because she has a bit of the “shine.” Largely left to her own devices, Ida befriends Ben, another local kid with a single-mother, who also has ambiguous “gifts.” However, Ben has a considerable mean streak. When the four children get together, Anna suddenly has sufficient conduits to communicate telepathically. She also starts to reverse her apparent developmental regression. Unfortunately, they also inadvertently empower Ben, which leads to horrific consequences.

Blind was a remarkably accomplished debut, but The Innocents is an even more assured work. It is not exactly a “slow build,” but the stakes and suspense steadily grow and compound (like off-shore interest payments) with each scene. There is a tragic logic to the story and a cleverness to how Vogt reveals it.

goes to some very dark places, but it is also shockingly poignant. What it says about sisterhood is really strangely beautiful. They way Vogt portrays Ida’s relationship with Anna turns out to be profoundly touching. Towards that end, Rakel Lenora Fløttum and Alva Brynsmo Ramstad are incredible as the two sisters. Likewise, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim is absolutely devastating as little Aisha, while Sam Ashraf is creepy as heck as Ben. Frankly, these could be four of the best youthful performances since Douglas Silva’s gut-punch turn in City of God.

This isn’t exactly a big twist movie that hinges on keeping a stunning twist secret, but it would still be a crime to reveal too much about the dark journey Vogt launches us on.
Innocents is definitely the sort of film you should see in a theater to minimize distractions. This is a terrific film that will change the way you think about kids, inspiring both fear and compassion. Very highly recommended, The Innocents screens again today (4/24) at the Walter Reade, as part of ND/NF ’22 and it opens theatrically May 13.