Eskil Vogt has already established himself as an exciting screenwriting talent, known for his collaborations with Joachim Trier on the iconic Oslo Trilogy as well as the 2017 film Thelma. Now, he is back with another interesting horror film titled The Innocents, which has been garnering a lot of critical attention.
Having co-written the screenplay for one of the best films of last year – Trier’s The Worst Person in the World – Vogt also made a fascinating addition to his growing body of work with The Innocents. A supernatural flick, the story revolves around the misadventures of a group of children who possess some uncanny psychic abilities.
Set during the summer break, The Innocents lets us into the world of a young girl named Ida whose sister Anna has autism. After moving to a new residential complex, Ida befriends a young boy called Ben who can alter the movement of physical objects by focusing his mind. What starts out as a parlour trick soon snowballs into something much more sinister.
People will inevitably compare this project to the eponymous 1961 horror film by Jack Clayton but Vogt had other intentions while making the film. In an interview, he noted that most horror films (where children are the Uncanny Other’) are written from the perspective of adults while this project is an immersive journey into the strange world they inhabit.
Since The Innocents is told from the perspective of four children, the rules of their universe are also radically different. The logic of the adult world does not apply to the realm they occupy, one where they can reach each other’s minds due to psychic connections and alter physical laws whenever they wish to do so.
Vogt uses a multi-ethnic cast to capture the conflicts, the insecurities, the fears and the desires of four children in this housing complex. It draws from its predecessors such as Akira and while the trope of children with superpowers isn’t really an innovation, Vogt’s presentation makes the entire cinematic experience feel fresh.
Due to the oscillation between dramatic elements and bursts of horror, Vogt believes that this is a genre hybrid: “This will probably not be accepted by horror fans as a pure horror movie. So, yes, you probably see someone who is as interested in that family dynamic and drama in the Ibsen tradition as the teenager who had his Stephen King and horror-movie phase. Both are there in the film.”
Featuring the sublime cinematography of Sturla Brandth Grøvlen, The Innocents is a highly stylised horror flick that subverts superhero trips while conducting an analysis of the nature of horror itself. While it has scenes of mind control, murder and gruesome violence facilitated by psychic powers, the most unsettling moments are actually the mundane ones.
We witness some of the children engaging in all kinds of animal cruelty, ranging from the crushing of an earthworm to the killing of a cat. Vogt tries to trace the development of morality within the minds of young children, presenting a difficult vision of the cruelty they are capable of. At times, it is reminiscent of Graham Greene’s seminal short story The Destructors but it only manages to be as horrifying as Greene’s work in those fleeting moments where Vogt shows that children don’t need superpowers to be evil.