Writer/director Eskil Vogt’s potent supernatural horror, The Innocents, may share its name with Jack Clayton’s 1961 adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw but it creeps majestically out of that film’s shadow with a powerful and provocative take on sinister children and superpowers.
The Norwegian filmmaker was inspired to make the film after having kids of his own as he watched them attempt to make sense of the world around them. A regular collaborator with Joachim Trier (their last film was the Oscar-nominated The Worst Person in the World), Vogt has put his own spin on the horror genre before with Thelma – a queer spin on Stephen King’s Carrie – this time he turns things up a notch with a chilling and brutal depiction of pre-teen kids curiously exploring their surroundings and testing the limits.
Set over a bright Nordic summer, a group of latchkey kids living in on a housing estate encircled by woodland become friends. Nine-year-old Ida (the incredible Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her non-verbal autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) have recently moved to the area with their parents. While wandering about, Ida meets the endearing Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) who can telepathically connect with Anna, and Ben (Sam Ashraf) whose lack of empathy and capacity for violence ultimately leads the three girls to band together in order to save the day.
Vogt draws out impressive performances from all of the child actors and the screenplay is vividly imagined with a complexity that works in its favour as the film gets progressively darker. There’s also a strong emphasis on character work which makes all the shocking revelations deeply impactful. Ida is confused and frustrated at her sister’s autism, and at one point places glass in her shoe to see if she feels pain – it’s upsetting but brilliantly places the viewer at a child’s vantage point. The entire film picks apart a child’s understanding of the world with subtlety, menacing intensity and an intelligence that gets deep under the skin.
The Innocents – in cinemas and digital 20th May. It will also be showing as part of this year’s Sci Fi London festival.