Eskil Vogt is primarily known for his collaborations with Joachim Trier, co-writing 'Reprise', 'Oslo, August 31st', 'Louder Than Bombs', 'Thelma' and 'The Worst Person In The World', which nabbed him an Oscar nomination. He's also quite the skilled director himself, as he demonstrates with his second feature, the supernatural horror 'The Innocents'.
Set during a bright Nordic summer at a housing estate next to a forest, 'The Innocents' adopts a waist-high point-of-view, trailing angel-faced child Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) as she stirs up daily trouble with Ben (Sam Ashraf), a boy who lives in one of the neighbouring apartment blocks. She mistreats her mute autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), who still manages to make friends with Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), another new playmate from across the way. The child actors are terrific little Duracell batteries of rambunctious energy, and as the gang cuts an unsupervised path of mischief across the property, exploring their newfound abilities, Vogt conjures a sense of carefree everyday adventure that lesser films about childhood only wish they could summon.
Oh yeah, the children (aside from Ida) all have various supernatural abilities, which grow more powerful when they are in proximity to one another. Aisha can communicate telepathically with Anna, who regains the ability to speak and develops telekinetic powers. However, it's Ben who gains the most from his new friends. As well as having the strongest telekinesis, his telepathy extends past mere communication - he can cause people to hallucinate their greatest fears and mind control them into carrying out his commands. Unfortunately for the kids (and the other residents of the apartment block), Ben is also a slowly-unravelling sociopath with an axe to grind. Even some of the adults become swallowed up by what this kid can do and are unable to stop him, which leads to terrible consequences.
'Thelma' was a supernatural coming-of-age story of the 'Raw'-meets-'Carrie' variety, unfolding in mostly chronological order, albeit with a few flickers of flashback and a couple of dream sequences. 'The Innocents' is effectively a companion piece, but a lot simpler. It largely plays out like 'The Florida Project' by way of 'The White Ribbon' as it questions the inherent nature of kids - could they be evil if given the power to do so, or is the concept of good and bad taught by adults? It's the sort of subject matter that 'The New Mutants' only paid lip service to. What Vogt has in common with Trier is the sensitive way he handles his actors and the economic way he lays out his story.
It largely plays out like 'The Florida Project' by way of 'The White Ribbon' as it questions the inherent nature of kids - could they be evil if given the power to do so, or is the concept of good and bad taught by adults?
While the violence in the film is disturbing, it isn't graphic or gory. It's just that the victims are children and women (and one unlucky cat), and the perpetrator is a small boy. For a film where characters do things like trap people in mental dreamscapes and throw psychic shockwaves at each other, the special effects are elegantly restrained. When the camera sweeps through the misty highrise, we hear the voices of children communicating through thought transference. The computer-generated wizardry is used sparingly to touch up practical effects so that it never descends into Marvel cartoonishness.
While 'The Innocents' is touching at times in its depiction of familial bonds and the death of innocence, it's the creepy atmosphere and brilliant performances that make it truly memorable.