‘The Innocents’ Review – A Provocative and Disturbing Moral Fable of Superpowered Innocence

Moral development is a crucial element of childhood, and it so happens to provide fertile ground for horror. The lines between innocence and evil can blur instantly when a child navigates morality and the social norms that teach right and wrong. Sometimes those lessons are taught through violence. Writer/Director Eskil Vogt‘s The Innocents takes it a step further by adding supernatural abilities to the mix, resulting in a dread-inducing feature that disturbs to the core.

Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) wakes from a nap in the backseat, peers to see if her parents are paying attention, then pinches her older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) with all her might. It’s a test; the older sister’s regressive autism makes her unable to speak and seemingly unable to feel pain. Between a brand-new move to a new high-rise apartment and Anna taking up much of their parent’s attention, Ida’s desperate to make friends. She finds one in Ben (Sam Ashraf), a lonely, bullied type that wastes no time showing off a strange gift; he can telekinetically move a bottle cap. Once another gifted girl, Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), enters the equation, the supernatural abilities grow more substantial, and testing their limits leads to gruesome consequences.

Vogt, who co-wrote Thelma, is no stranger to using superpowers to explore morally complicated characters and treating them with empathy. Ida acts as the audience proxy, the neighborhood newcomer, and the sole kid without supernatural gifts. When Ben shows off his power, Ida reacts in awe and excitement. She’s not afraid; she’s fascinated and curious. That curiosity makes her prone to cruelty. But Ida lives in a home with two loving parents, and Ben and Aisha come from single-parent homes, creating an intriguing dichotomy with Ida as the neutral.

The relationships these children forge toggles between utterly sweet and bone-chilling. Aisha’s gift breeds more empathy, whereas Ben’s gives him a semblance of control and leverage. Ben’s darkness mounts along with his power, creating high stakes that begin with one of the most viscerally upsetting depictions of animal torture (cat lovers beware). Naturally, it progresses into a body count as sinister intentions take root.

That intimate portrayal of childhood, framed almost entirely through the young leads, sets The Innocents apart. Vogt never handholds or bothers to explain the rules of this fabled world overtly; it’s all conveyed in the visual details and the performances. It’s in small moments that carry so much nuanced depth. The way Aisha’s mom cries to herself from behind kitchen cabinets when she thinks she’s alone is a vital yet subtle insight into their characters. The way Ida connects Ben’s telekinesis to her double-jointed elbow exemplifies child thought patterns and lack of fear. Even in the way Ben attempts to wash away injuries he callously caused. These details create a textured world, even if Vogt lingers on some of them for a bit too long.

The Innocents is a provocative look at the fine razor line between good and evil and the darker side to innocence. Four compelling performances ground the disturbing horror, adding complex emotions and morality to fuel the tension. Vogt twists the knife further by setting it under the bright Nordic sun; the terror these kids commit happens right under the adults’ noses, often in plain sight, with no one the wiser. The emotional authenticity heightens the horror, creating one of the most viscerally disturbing depictions of childhood in recent memory.

The Innocents releases in theaters and on VOD on May 13, 2022.

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