by Rob DiCristino
Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents opens on seven-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) waking up from a nap in the back of her parents’ car. As the road ahead comes into focus, Ida hears a familiar sound: Her autistic sister Anna’s (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) rhythmic whimpering. It’s the only real sound Anna can make, the only way she can communicate with the world around her. While that’s sad for Anna, it’s more than a little irritating to Ida, who casts an eye roll her sister’s way and gives her a perfunctory pinch on the thigh. As usual, there’s no response. Anna doesn’t feel it, Ida thinks. She doesn’t feel pain. She’s not a person, even. She’s an obstacle. An annoyance. A roadblock to her parents’ attention. As they pull up to their new apartment building, Ida surveys the barren playground and resigns herself to more loneliness and neglect. Anna doesn’t mean to monopolize her parents’ time, but that doesn’t matter when you’re seven. Ida can’t be expected to be rational or empathetic, to recognize humanity in others. Those are the emotions of adulthood. Ida is a child.
The sophomore feature effort from Eskil Vogt (co-writer of 2021’s best film, The Worst Person in the World), The Innocents is a chilling glimpse into childhood that showcases his tendency toward subtlety and nuance over excessive exposition and dramatic outbursts. Unlike other entries in the “creepy kid” genre, The Innocents lives up to its name: Ida and her friends may do terrible things, but they’re still just kids. Their motivations are human and pure. They’re playing. They’re experimenting. They’re testing boundaries and tasting freedom. What happens if I toss a paper airplane onto an active highway? How far can I climb up this tree before I’m too scared to continue? What sound would this cat’s neck make if I snapped it? Think carefully: How different is that last one when you’re young, when your moral compass is not yet developed and you haven’t had to deal with consequences for transgressive acts? What shapes that morality in the first place? Is it our parents? Our peers? How do we learn right from wrong if we don’t raise a little hell?
The Innocents is in select theaters and On Demand now.