The evil kid horror genre feels as exhausted as a Final Girl stumbling over a branch.
Movies like “The Grudge,” “Eli,” “The Ring,” “Goodnight Mommy” and “Orphan” let youngsters give Freddy, Jason and co. a break.
“The Innocents” shames them all, injecting fresh blood into the tired genre.
The Norwegian thriller follows children who exhibit special powers without the morality to reign them in. The result? A disturbing look at childhood, albeit one with a glacial pace.
Young Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) has a severely disabled older sister (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) and no friends in her new community. Enter Ben (Sam Ashraf), a quiet but intense boy harboring a secret. He can move objects with his mind.
He’s also prone to hurting animals to pass the time.
Another child, Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), boasts her own abilities which shan’t be spoiled here. Together, the children explore the limits of their gifts before turning them on others.
Writer/director Eskil Vogt (co-writer, “Thelma”) takes great care avoiding superhero-like flourishes. He’s also resolute in keeping the pace achingly slow. That works wonders when he’s evoking the gentle rhythms of this community and the slow realization that these children wield consequential gifts.
Otherwise? It’s a drag and deserves a refined edit.
The young cast couldn’t be better, or more chilling. Each delivers a raw, unfiltered performance that amplifies the horror. And this is a horror film, with twisting bodies and gruesome details that don’t rely on gore or faux scares.
Still, the quiet beauty of being a child is part of the narrative. The simple joys of discovery, be it a cute new trick or just another kid eager for connection. The main characters may be intrigued by their powers, but they’d rather be frolicking outside, not mulling the scope of their abilities.
Perhaps the most frightening moments involve the casual cruelty these children embrace without tapping their budding powers.
Adults play a minor role here, but that isn’t accidental. These children must grow up, and fast, and it’s another layer of pain to witness that reality. Vogt is sharing something tragic about childhood in the 21st century, but he does so in a sly, mature fashion.
Too many children are thrust into adulthood in our current culture.
“The Innocents” may drag, but its incendiary moments and haunting atmosphere diminish those complaints.
HiT or Miss: “The Innocents” refuses to play by the horror playbook, and the results are unsettling and hard to forget.