Eskil Vogt is best known for his writing work with director Joachim Trier, with the pair most recently being nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Worst Person in the World. But on the evidence of his second feature film as director, following up from 2014’s Blind, Vogt most definitely has as much skill behind the camera as he does with a pen and paper. The Innocents is a curious beast; it is a psychological horror that struggles to keep its momentum up consistently, but one that never loses its immense feeling of unease.
Not to be confused with Jack Clayton’s 1961 haunted house classic of the same name, 2021’s The Innocents swaps the moody, dark interiors of a British estate for the bright, sun-kissed exteriors of a Nordic neighbourhood. Like Clayton’s film, the unsettling, off kilter intrigue is present, hanging over every scene like a dreadfully ominous presence.
Vogt’s film follows a group of children spending a summer together in a small suburb, whose otherworldly powers come to the fore in a remarkably measured way. The Innocents is a film that slowly builds, patiently playing with both the light and dark sides of these childrens’ powers; telekinesis is all fun and games until it’s used aggressively toward someone. Sam Ashraf’s Ben, who starts off as a lonely boy just looking for friends, impressively morphs into a hate-fuelled character with a fascination for death. Ashraf shines in this dual-personality role and brings a frightening maturity to it.
Like Midsommar (2019), a film similar in terms of its constantly sunny Scandinavian setting, The Innocents has, for the most part, that same mystery and suspense which inevitably, eventually, boils over into a crescendo of mayhem. Vogt’s screenplay is not perfect; it has moments that are clichéd, and its dramatic momentum isn’t consistent. The Innocents pushes its concept to the absolute limit with its near two-hour runtime. Themes of childhood neglect or abuse also feel underdeveloped, only included in service of its horror-driven plot.
But as Ben butts heads with former friends Ida, Anna and Aisha, The Innocents ramps up the tension, drama and even the gore. Tense and skin-crawling moments such as a pan of boiling water falling onto a incapacitated body are as brutally and grippingly excruciating as something you’d see in a David Cronenberg film. For all its flaws, The Innocents still manages to be an intriguing and daring psychological horror, based around one very unnerving child indeed.
WRITER/DIRECTOR: Eskil Vogt
STARS: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashraf, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim
RUNTIME: 117 minutes