The Innocents: Be very afraid of the children

Film review: A sense of psychic dread pervades this paranormal drama

The Innocents
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Director: Eskil Vogt
Cert: 15A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Sam Ashraf, Ellen Dorrit Pedersen, Morten Svartveit, Kadra Yusuf, Lisa Tønne.
Running Time: 1 hr 58 mins

As director Eskil Vogt’s follow-up to 2016’s Blind opens, Ida (Rakel Lenora Flottum) is travelling with her parents (Ellen Dorrit Pedersen and Morten Svartveit) to a new apartment. En route, she glowers and pinches her autistic elder sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) in the backseat. She harbours certain ill-feelings, but not so many as Benjamin (Sam Ashraf), the troubled boy she befriends. They bond over a cat, who is dropped many storeys down a stairwell. Ida giggles at the animal’s misfortune, but flinches at Benjamin’s final treatment of the unfortunate feline.

The weighty sense of dread around the misbehaving children is heightened by the first signs of telekinetic powers. They’re not alone, either. Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), another, gentler, young girl in the neighbourhood, has a psychic connection with the non-verbal Anna, one that allows the austitic girl to share her thoughts.

For a brief moment the quartet bond in their blossoming supernatural gifts, like a pre-teen real-world X-Men. Sadly, it does not take long for Benjamin to turn on other kids with the same disturbed curiosity he showed toward the unfortunate kitty.

Vogt, the Oscar-nominated co-writer of The Worst Person in the World and longtime writing partner of director Joachim Trier, revisits some of the paranormal themes explored in Thelma, Trier’s spooky 2017 drama about a disturbed young lesbian with mysterious powers.

Those same abilities are far more disconcerting when attributed to pre-adolescents inclined to acting out, and lacking a mature sense of morality. Vogt coaxes impressive, carefully calibrated performances from his creepy young ensemble: Flottum is anxious yet inscrutable; Ramstad is present and absent; Asheim is childlike and parental; Ashraf is scared and scary in equal measure.   The upsetting final showdown makes one yearn for the unambiguous extermination of the Midwich Cuckoos at the end of Village of the Damned. Benjamin’s cruel psychological tricks seem to seep out from the screen. Cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s use of Nordic glare adds to the eerie spell.