The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - THE INNOCENTS | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - THE INNOCENTS

the innocents review
A group of young children discover they possess psychic powers.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Eskil Vogt

Starring: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Sam Ashraf, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Ellen Dorrit Petersen

the innocents poster

Think of the worst atrocities you've witnessed and chances are they were committed by your childhood peers. As kids we watch our friends torture small animals, destroy property and physically assault other kids, usually those marked as being "different" in some way. Kids represent humanity at its most savage. They're essentially small Neanderthals, yet to recognise morality. Yet we like to think of children as innocent. They're not innocent, just ignorant.

the innocents review

Writer/director Eskil Vogt, a frequent collaborator of Joachim Trier, takes a cynical view of childhood in his second film as director, the ironically titled The Innocents. He opens his film with a typical act of childhood cruelty as nine-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Flottum) pinches the arm of her older, autistic and non-verbal sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad). Anna doesn't respond to such physical pain but Ida has been told that her sister hurts on the inside. It doesn't stop her from continuing the torment.

When her family moves to a tower block in the suburbs, Ida finds a kindred spirit in a slightly older boy, Ben (Sam Ashraf). Ben is bullied by the local kids and neglected by his mother, and he takes out his rage by breaking branches in the nearby woods and torturing any cats unfortunate enough to make his acquaintance. He seems like the sort of kid who might later shoot up a school, but Ben has no need for guns – he possesses telekinetic powers that allow him to manipulate both objects and people.

the innocents review

Similarly gifted is the young Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), who makes friends with Anna. Aisha discovers that Anna also has psychic powers and can communicate mentally with herself and Ben. These powers are harnessed initially through harmless childhood games, but as Ben grows more frustrated he begins to use his gift to take revenge on those he feels have wronged him.

We may not have seen this sort of story in this particular setting, but movies about people with psychic powers have been done to death at this point (in the US Vogt's film opened the same weekend as a terrible new adaptation of Stephen King's Firestarter). The Innocents is essentially The Medusa Touch in a tower block, but it never really makes much of its setting. The racial dynamic of the estate feels like colourblind casting, with a Muslim woman at one point boiling frankfurters for her son's dinner (???), and at no point is it ever suggested that Ben's victimisation is linked to his race or religion. Positing a young male Arab as a potential pot of rage set to boil over into violence unless a young white girl intervenes…well, it's not a great look (not to mention how unlikely it is for a Muslim to torture cats, an animal granted exalted status by the religion).

the innocents review

We've seen both The Innocents' story and its stereotypes before, but it's undeniably well made. Given its budget, the visual effects are so impressively realistic that they might easily be overlooked. The performances of the young cast are stellar, particularly Flottum, who manages to evoke sympathy despite the awful things we see her engage in. Vogt's direction is subtle but suspenseful, with a climactic scene at a playground positively brimming with tension. But if you're after a more interesting story of a young person grappling with psychic powers, I'd suggest Vogt and Trier's Thelma.

The Innocents
 is in US cinemas and VOD now and UK/ROI cinemas and VOD from May 20th.

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