A viewer could ascribe many metaphors to the Norwegian film The Innocents, but, mostly, I believe this is a picture about resentment.
The film centers around two sisters, Anna, about 12, and Ida, around 10. Anna is severely autistic, so much so she can only make slight sounds and requires constant supervision. The family has just moved to a new apartment complex where the father has found work.
Ida begins to explore the apartment complex, its playground and nearby forest. She quickly meets Ben, an immigrant boy with a single mother. Ben imparts to her a secret: he can move objects with his mind.
Aisha, another immigrant child with a single parent, comes into the orbit of the group. She bears a facial disfigurement, most likely burn marks.
The four children begin to discover that not only can they move objects, but they also share telepathic links.
Ben appears to be the strongest, but his abilities soon grow dark and malign.
The Innocents might remind some of an American film from a decade previous, Chronicle. In that movie, a mysterious object lands in the woods of a suburban town. The three high school boys who first come upon it develop powers, and the entire movie is filmed from the point of view of hand-held cameras.
Chronicle was made during the so-called ‘found footage’ craze, when many movies took the viewpoint of discovered video material to tell their stories. Chronicle was entertaining and clever, but it wasn’t really good because it had no deeper point than its gimmick.
If you compare The Innocents to Chronicle, the former’s powers (yes, pun) of observation and literary understanding are vastly higher. Chronicle had a plot, but it wasn’t about anything other than standard cliches relating to jocks, bullies, and all in between. The Innocents has a plot, too, but it has a far more compelling and thought out dramatic purpose.
As mentioned above, I think The Innocents is really a story about resentment. Ida resents Anna and her infirmities, the burden it places on her own childhood. Ben resents his mother not wanting to take him on holiday. The parents resent their own responsibilities and fates.
These resentments spawn cruelties, some casual and unwitting while others are intentional and murderous. The question The Innocents seeks to answer is: under what circumstances can these resentments be overcome?
Others will have their own interpretations of the film. It’s about racial purity, immigration, or power. There are snippets of all these themes in the movie, but the most central point is not about macro concerns such as demographics or critical theory. The Innocents is a small story if you look past the wokeness, and in that regard it delivers commandingly.
The child actors are excellent, somewhere in between The Village of the Damned kids and Danny Torrance from The Shining. I wouldn’t classify the movie as horror, but several moments do induce genuine chills.
The writer-director of The Innocents, Eskil Vogt, makes this film on the heels of his highly regarded script for The Worst Person in the World, which was a romantic drama of sorts. The transition in genres for Vogt is easily accomplished, but that’s because, subcutaneously, the issues are similar.
Whether pursuing romantic fulfilment or releasing oneself from familial resentment are struggles that seem to press harder than ever before on both adults and children in a post modern world.
The title The Innocents is of course ironic. There is nothing innocent about any of the events of the movie nor the deep psychological torments that must be worked through as the movie arcs and concludes.
BLAST RATING: 4 OUT OF 4 STARS