After ‘Stranger Things’, ‘Umbrella Academy’ and 20 years of X-Men films, interest in the ‘ordinary people with superpowers’ subgenre are still relevant, and this indie film within the horror genre wants to join in.
‘The Innocents’ is set in the backdrop of the Nordic summer; a group of children discover their newfound physic powers away from the watchful eyes of their parents. But as the famous saying goes: with great power comes responsibility and playtime takes a dark turn.
The film had its UK premiere at the 2021 October Frightfest film festival and was met with positive feedback. And I can see why: it’s a shocking and disturbing look into the naivety of childhood and the accidental, and sometimes violent, consciences that it can carry. However, it is not without some pacing issues.
One of the phrases that has passed around a lot in the film and TV industry is ‘never work with animals or children’. However, it could be argued that the right direction and the right acting can falsify this quote and ‘The Innocents’ is an exception. Due to the core cast being children, they all had the challenge of carrying the viewers through this journey and they’re all fantastic. They seamlessly perform their way through ‘The Innocents’ with ease, but all carry different personalities; main character Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) is quiet but curious about her new surroundings, Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) is caring and sympathetic towards Ida’s autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), while Ben (Sam Ashraf) slowly starts to develop a mean streak which is introduced in the first act of the film.
These personalities all make each character unique, until their powers are discovered. The execution of these discoveries is quiet and subtle; Ben tells Ida that he has telekinesis and so they experiment with this power in the woods. There’s no dramatic music or huge reactions to it, making it feel realistic. The children are instead curious by the power and so decide to learn more about it, something that makes sense; children are curious and want to explore everything that they can and, so, they would explore this. The way in which these powers work is done in a smart way and follows the themes of friendships being powerful and important. That is, until the plot takes a dark turn. But the execution of their discovery was done brilliantly; the narrative and nature of the film means that the more grounded approach was the better decision for ‘The Innocents’.
Another way in which ‘The Innocents’ is grounded is through the filmmaking itself. The film is set in an apartment complex, where Ida and Anna move to at the start of the film and this setting wouldn’t look out of place even here in the UK. It’s a relatable ordinary environment and one that is unexpected for a premise like this, making the children’s discovery stand out more and seem more surreal. But the cinematography and lack of score is also what makes ‘The Innocents’ grounded in reality.
The lack of a score means that viewers aren’t swayed into feeling a certain emotion, so the shocking moments feel more genuine and unexpected (one definitely had me covering my mouth). If these moments had had a score, the impact of the scene would be lost. And the film does have a few interesting shots too, most of which are made up of the location being upside down (which is also shown on the film’s poster). Thus, further implying that a strange scenario is occurring in this quiet neighbourhood. These are all subtle moments, and some of them don’t occur often throughout the film, but they help elevate the plot and reflect the strangeness of the premise.
However, if you are going to watch ‘The Innocents’, please note that this is a slow-paced film. While it is nearly 2 hours, it’s comfortable with taking its time in telling the story within. And, while some slower paced films work and are enjoyable, the pacing here didn’t work personally. At times, it did feel like it was dragging its feet just to fit in a shot that served no purpose to the plot. While most of the film was necessary, ‘The Innocents’ felt like it needed another edit.
However, despite the pacing issues, ‘The Innocents’ was a mostly enjoyable and shocking film. The cast had a challenge with carrying this film, but they did it perfectly, with each character being unique. The writing was also brilliant, and themes of the innocence of childhood as well as the powers of friendship were clear and executed flawlessly. It just felt like it needed another edit but, despite that, I would recommend ‘The Innocents’; it received praise at last year’s Frightfest and for good reason.
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