Oh, look at that cute kid. Now, run before he kills you.
The Innocents, by writer/director Eskil Vogt, makes a beautiful Scandinavian summer a horrifying place. The film screened as part of Austin’s Fantastic Fest. The festival, the largest genre fest in the country, shows horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action, and unusual films that don’t necessarily fit into any genre. The 2021 edition screened primarily at Austin’s famous Alamo Drafthouse Theater – South Lamar. It also used online options and some other venues to facilitate COVID-19 social distancing.
Meet the Family
The Innocents opens with a closeup of Ida, played by Rakel Lenora Fløttum. From off-screen, we hear a muffled sound. Ida’s sister Anna, held back by autism, tries to communicate. The two of them and their parents have just moved into a new apartment building in a city new to them. Like many children in similar circumstances, they are lonely and need friends.
Ida leads the way in reaching out to find new friends. Since it is summertime, and people are on vacation, the apartments are mostly deserted. That makes it even more of a challenge.
They find two other children: Aisha who can telepathically communicate with others, including Anna, and Ben who can move things with his mind. The four of them forge a bond of friendship based on increasing each others’ mental powers.
Then, it becomes obvious that one of them has evil intentions. It made me think of The Exorcist or Village of the Damned, but its horror is much more subtle than either of those.
Meet the Power
The film is powerful visually and psychologically.
Visually, early on, we see a child stepping on a worm in the mud. This is not the last thing that gets crushed underfoot. The visuals are frightening and brutal. It is a horror that grabs the viewer on a visceral level.
It got to me psychologically. At one point, I anticipated what was about to happen next. I was thinking, “Oh, no, not that!” I did not want to see what happened next. This is not how I usually react to a film. I am usually more detached. But this film draws you in no matter how jaded and sophisticated you think you might be.
The Innocents builds to a life-and-death climax that will leave you shaking.
Meet the Filmmaker
Filmmaker Vogt was unable to attend the festival in person. However, prior to the screening, Fantastic Fest Director of Programming Annick Mahnert recorded an interview with him.
The psychic powers of the children in the film are not explained. Mahnert asked Vogt whether people ask him about this.
Vogt replied, “People want me to put in an explanation. But that would be less interesting. The film is about the magic of being a child. People come up to me after seeing the film and start telling me about what happened to them that was magical when they were children.”
Mahnert wondered how Vogt got such amazing performances out of children.
Vogt explained, “We worked with the kids for a long time. They had months to prepare. We did workshops on how to be afraid, and on anger. They knew what was going to happen in every scene before they stepped on set. We treated them like actors, not like children. Of course, between the scenes they ran around and acted like kids.”
The Innocents had no monsters, or zombies or space aliens – just children – but it was totally mesmerizing and frightening. It’s currently on the film festival circuit, and IFC Midnight plans to release it to theaters in 2022.
To get updates about future Fantastic Fest events and ways to view its films, check its website.