25 May 2022

At The Movies - The Innocents

From At The Movies, 7:30 pm on 25 May 2022

The Innocents is a critically acclaimed Norwegian horror about a small group of children who gain strange powers.

Simon Morris - not usually a horror fan - declares it one of the best films of 2022.

Simon Morris: The Innocents isn't easy to find but when you get a chance to see it, I urge you to go. It's the most nail-biting, sinister and scary use of children in a horror pic since Let The Right One In.

The film opens with a family moving house - Mum, Dad and two young daughters.

One, Anna, is seriously handicapped - she's autistic and non-verbal - while the younger one Ida is bratty, easily bored and resentful of the attention her sister seems to get all the time.

They arrive at a block of flats that are mostly deserted. It's midsummer, most of the residents are on holiday.

Ida mooches around and meets a boy equally at a loose end called Benjamin. Do you want to see something, he asks?

Ben can seemingly move things about without touching them. Just little things at first, but as the film progresses, those skills start to build.

And as Ida gets to know Ben better, he becomes increasingly creepy. We come to dread those moments when his eyes roll back and he starts concentrating.

Ben may be a bit scary but for some reason, he's nervous near Ida's sister Anna. Even though Anna doesn't talk, she now has a way of making contact with people like Ben - and also another neighbour, the sweet and upbeat Ayesha.

Ayesha has her own powers - she seems to be telepathic.

It's only after a while you realise quite how amazing the performances are in The Innocents - particularly the central character of Ida, whose soul is the one at stake here.

From a spoiled, easily-led kid, to one forced to make difficult choices, she's absolutely believable.

And of course, that's down to the directing - one Eskil Vogt, who also wrote the script. I was surprised to learn he wrote another brilliant Norwegian film this year - the quite different The Worst Person in the World.

The one thing the two scripts have in common is that they start small and seemingly predictable, then tighten the screw until you have no idea where this could be going.

The Innocents seems to encourage a search for hidden meanings. I've heard this described as a cautionary tale about lax parenting, as a parable about good and evil, and even a commentary on colonialism (two families in the film are immigrants).

Like all great horror stories - particularly those with children at the centre - it could be all of the above or none of them.

The powers of the children build, and so does the tension. No explanation is given other than an occasional shot of the nearby, primal Norwegian forest.

But part of the driving force is the equally primal instincts of children. Why shouldn't magic be real? And if they don't like something, they lash out.

I'm not normally a fan of scary movies - too many hollow explanations involving ancient burial grounds for my taste - but The Innocents is unnerving in all the right, horrifying ways.

It's brilliantly conceived, very well executed - you see exactly what you need to and no more.

And the performances - mostly first-timers - are absolutely gripping.

The Innocents is one of the top five films of 2022, no doubt.

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