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CANNES 2021 Un Certain Regard

Review: The Innocents

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- CANNES 2021: Eskil Vogt's terrific second film is one of the best horror flicks of recent years and is an instant classic

Review: The Innocents
Rakel Lenora Fløttum and Sam Ashraf in The Innocents

In his previous film, Blind [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Eskil Vogt
interview: Eskil Vogt
film profile
]
, Norwegian writer-director Eskil Vogt made a psychological drama about a woman in a new apartment block who starts losing her eyesight and believing that someone is spying on her. The director took something away from his main protagonist, and showed how tense and challenging being in a new environment can be as well as how a change in our senses can play with how we think, our beliefs and our actions. There are some similarities in the set-up to The Innocents [+see also:
interview: Eskil Vogt
film profile
]
, which is playing in Un Certain Regard at Cannes.

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The Innocents starts by following a family who move to a housing estate next to a forest for the summer with their two children, the elder of whom, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), is autistic. Anna's autism is a little clue that this film will be about how the mind works and the fact that humans still don't understand neurology that well. It makes the supernatural elements of the story seem plausible even without an elaborate, comic book-style explanation. Anna's cute little sister, Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum), has to take responsibility sooner than one would expect for a child her age. She is desperately searching for human contact with others her age.

Ida takes Anna to play on the swings, where her new friend Ben (Sam Ashraf) persuades Ida to leave her sister while they go off to play together. In doing this, Vogt cleverly plays with our human desire to protect children and the fears this induces in order to ramp up the tension. But this is just an introduction to a world where the true horror only starts being revealed when Ben and Ida follow a cat into a storage area below the apartment, where an act of pure evil takes place. They then meet Aisha, and the four children discover that they can communicate and control things with their minds. From this moment on, the viewer is trying to work out who is good and who is evil.

There is an element of William Golding's Lord of the Flies in seeing the terrible consequences of what happens when children gain power, over which they have autonomy. The Innocents also questions the nature of good and evil, pondering whether it is inherited, the work of the devil or something learned. Vogt's ambiguous narrative makes all of these conclusions possible.

There are so many elements that make this world so rich. The camera follows the kids into their own homes, which gives a window into Norwegian society, a world of rich and poor, and haves and have nots. The inclusive casting adds to the movie's ambiguity and flavour – indeed, it's interesting to see a Norwegian film where characters from all backgrounds come together. With the action taking place in mid-summer, cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grøvlen uses the sunlight to create ominous feelings thanks to the way it streams through windows, bounces off trees and lights up the figures.

But more chillingly than any of the supernatural elements, the film throws in another question, one that haunts the viewer after the end of the credits, when it's time to try to calm down and relax again: who are the innocents? Is it the children? The parents? Or the audience?

The Innocents is a Norwegian-Swedish-Danish-UK-French-Finnish co-production staged by Mer Film, Zentropa International Sweden, Film i Väst, Snowglobe, Bufo, Logical, Zefyr and Don’t Look Now. Its international sales have been entrusted to Protagonist Pictures.

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