When children are not so innocent
By Sara Darling
If you’re expecting a sweet Norwegian film starring cute and charming children, this is not the film for you. This Scandi noir horror features a talented cast of kids aged twelve and under, who are anything but winsome.
Normally, I am a complete fidget, but I was gripped by the film whose main characters are sisters, 9-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Flottum) and non-verbal sister Anna (played by eleven-year-old autistic actress Alva Brynsmo Ramstad in her first film role) kept me glued to the edge of my seat and hiding behind my popcorn, throughout the almost two-hour movie.
We are introduced to the family on their journey to their new apartment in a block of flats in a peaceful Oslo suburb, and instantly you can feel an affinity with Anna. To Ida, Anna is nothing but a nuisance and her restricted socialisation and repetitive behaviour such as spinning pan lids make her an easy target to ridicule when she is bored.
Ida is pretty much left to her own devices and soon meets loner Ben (Sam Ashraf) in the playground, who takes her under his wing. Fascinated by his “magic” which involves moving and shattering objects, sending messages to others and controlling their bodies, they become inseparable. However, his charisma soon turns sour after about twenty minutes he calmly murders a cat, which you can’t unhear or see!
Meanwhile, Anna has been befriended by a child from the estate, Aisha, who, as another outcast, bonds with mute Anna, and develops a telekinetic connection with what she is thinking.
The four children make an unlikely quartet, but become playmates throughout the long hot summer, and when the games turn to mind reading, the children discover that their powers grow stronger from their association with each other. Aisha cannot move objects like Ben and Anna but she can communicate with Anna telepathically, and she can feel the thoughts of Ben. They start to experiment by sending thoughts to the others from a distance, but Ida does not possess this ESP and can only watch.
The games they play challenge typical assumptions of childhood innocence, and raise questions as to whether children are devoid of evil intentions. It is evident Ben is deeply damaged, as he has no emotions in his destructive acts when he uses his powers. However, Anna, through Aisha, exemplifies the good that can happen with these dangerous paranormal abilities as she is the force of positivity in their “innocent” games as she is able to feel what others are thinking.
Far from the eyes of adults, their experiments grow even more hurtful, and reminiscent of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, things turn sinister. When things get physical, Anna and Ida are both reprimanded by their parents who have no clue about what is going on, and this causes Anna to become even more agitated as she is able to sense a disaster.
Although we are led to assume Ben has sadistic tendencies (after his heartless murder of the cat), this comes into full effect when he starts using his abilities on humans. He is able to take over the mind of his adult neighbour and puppeteers his body to bludgeon the block’s resident bully to death.
Coming to the realisation that Ben has no morals and will happily eliminate anyone who crosses him, Ida impulsively decides to go and meet him, and tries to push him off a bridge, scared that he could destroy her family. But he survives the fall and the tension builds as to what will happen now his psychic powers have been exposed. Furious and agitated, he takes his aggression out on his single mother in a scene which is repulsive and dramatic- all the more so with the calm nature of his torture.
But that’s not the end of Ben, as he is not the only one looking to seek revenge. The Innocents gives all the children a voice, and the film portrays each character with an interesting medley of ignorance with sinister savagery. The result is sophisticated psychological horror which you would not have expected from the angelic blonde starlet who is the poster girl for the film.
The Innocents is out in cinemas and on digital platforms on May 20