The Innocents (2022)
Director: Eskil Vogt
Screenwriter: Eskil Vogt
Starring: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashraf, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Morten Svartveit
Stephen King adaptations are a dime a dozen at the moment. But slow-burning, art-house Norwegian films with King’s childhood influences – like a cross between Uncle Steve’s novels and the Scandinavian apartment complex location from Let the Right One In – are a little rarer. If you happen to have been looking for the latter, The Innocents might just be the one for you.
This film about four kids discovering supernatural powers, and the dark things that can come from having them, signals from the very start that it’s not going to be a jump fest. And so, thankfully, this turns out to be the case, The Innocents taking pride in showing rather than telling. We’re allowed time to get to know our main quartet of Ida, Anna, Aisha, and Ben, in the early passages, watching them discover their abilities, test them out, have fun in the woods. We don’t have to rush, because these are the kids who will provide the horror, and if we don’t know them, we can’t go on the journey with them.
And speaking of horror: when it does hit, it doesn’t let up.
There are some squealing moments and, although much of the violence is over in a flash, the directing and editing (in several instances using the long zooms of horror films from the late sixties and early seventies; some shots are even reminiscent of The Wicker Man), allows for the tension to creep and creep and creep, digging its way into your skin, before a quick and sickening snap. It uses its horror sparingly, allowing the pot to start boiling over, encouraging the realisations of what must inevitably happen when our friends find friction burning the invisible bonds between them.
The Innocents’ finale is perhaps its strongest moment. It is understated and simple. There are no big explosions, loud noises or creepy houses, just a silent battle of wills across a lake (admittedly framed like Deborah Kerr spotting the ghost of Miss Jessel across the lake in the 1961 The Innocents). And it works because it hinges purely on the characters involved and the journeys we’ve witnessed them go on together. It’s in the middle of the day in a crowded environment, and nobody truly understands what’s happening aside from other kids nearby. Isolated, cut off, and with no help from anyone, it’s life or death under the simmering surface of reality.
This understatement works beautifully with the core concepts and ideas of the film. There are battles in our young days that go unnoticed by the wider world. Our parents never understand exactly when we are forced to grow up. We must traverse these strange meetings between worlds: the clash of civilisation and the raw natural world (illustrated by long shots of apartment blocks right of frame, tall dark trees on the left), the old and the new, between those who have powers and those who do not, between adults and children, between the waking reality and a world that is upside down and back to front (beautifully encapsulated by the ending credits scrolling top-down instead of the usual bottom-up). This coming of age always happens out in the open but is unseen by those outside its sphere, and The Innocents (2022) works this key idea exquisitely.
The Innocents is quiet, creeping, and always charged. By doing away with orchestras and explosions and extravagance, we’re left with a film that simply looks at a few weeks in the summer with some troubled kids and asks what would really happen if they could embody the turmoil in their hearts and minds. We’ve all gone through it, we’ve all experienced it, and we all know that it’s scary.