Kids are scary. If you didn’t think so before, you definitely will after watching The Innocents – one of the year’s most quietly unsettling horror films. In it, director Eskil Vogt (best known for writing all of Joachim Trier’s best films, including this year’s The Worst Person In The World) brings his chilly Norwegian style to a summery story about a bunch of kids in an apartment complex that quickly becomes deeply uncomfortable to watch.
Sharing a title with one of the most famous haunted house movies of all time, The Innocents takes the classic trope and flips it. A new family moves into a block of flats that seems perfectly lovely. This time, though, it’s not the building that’s hiding the unpleasantness, it’s the children themselves. Worse still, they don’t even care.
Little Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her autistic older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) start exploring their new home and meet the other local kids, Ben (Sam Ashraf) and Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim). Weird stuff starts to happen, but the children are all too young to think anything of it: Ben can move rocks with his mind, Aisha seems telepathic, and Anna feels no pain.
What starts off as an odd arthouse X-Men movie takes a darker turn when the kids begin to act cruelly just for the fun of it. A worm gets stamped on. Glass gets put inside a shoe. By the time Ben picks up a stray cat it’s hard to watch what happens next – and things get much worse from there.
Sickening softly, Vogt’s gracefully shot scares play out so subtly that he never even acknowledges them. Even the film’s themes are kept as loose as possible, always unclear whether or not you’re watching a supervillain origin story, a modern folk horror or a study in sociopathic behaviour.
As painful to watch as it is rewarding, the tension pays off in the most unnerving ways as Fløttum skips through the sunny carnage with a cute little smile on her face. Not one for recent parents, animal lovers or the easily upset, The Innocents is the best kind of horror film – one you try and push to the back of your mind in case you end up thinking about it too much.
- Director: Eskil Vogt
- Starring: Alva Brynsmo, Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim
- Release date: May 20 (in UK cinemas)