The Innocents is not for the fainthearted. The audience meets Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum), a nine-year-old Norwegian girl who moves to a new town and apartment complex with her parents and older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad). Anna is autistic and does not have any expressive language, and the attention that she gets from their parents leads Ida to pinch her and place broken glass in her shoes in the belief that her sister cannot feel pain because she doesn’t express it. Ida begins playing with neighbour Ben (Sam Ashraf) and Anna befriends Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim). The four children soon discover they have telepathic connections and Ben can move objects with his mind. What starts as fun and giggles escalates to a murderous rampage.
Audible collective gasps can be heard throughout the cinema as animal torture and murder, and subtle but disturbing violence fills the screen, all of it heightened by the fact it is committed by children. Ben’s powers outgrow the others’ and he realises that he can inhabit other people’s bodies and make them do whatever he wants, which leads to an altercation between an innocent man and one of Ben’s bullies.
The relationship between Aisha and Anna is the light of the piece, as Anna finds someone who fully understands her and can help her express her feelings. Aisha explains to Ida that he sister can feel pain – she just doesn’t express it like everyone else does.
This film should be placed under the definition of “disturbing”. It draws a lot from Stephen King, though it never falls into derivative territory. Its normal, everyday setting makes it all the more chilling, depraved and upsetting. The four young leads are nothing short of masterful, each of them embodying exactly what their character brings to the story: Ida’s irreverence, Aisha’s purity and kindness, and Ben’s utter evil. With the tragedy that was Maddie Ziegler’s performance as an autistic child in Music, the bar has been set extremely low, but Ramstad raises it higher than it has ever been, harnessing the idiosyncratic sounds and expressing herself perfectly without words, never going over the top.
A solid story, spectacular acting and tangible characters, but ultimately a disturbing and uneasy ride, Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents is not for the innocent.
The Innocents does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.