The Innocents is one of two movies about youths with dangerous superpowers coming out this week. The other one is another adaptation of Stephen King’s Firestarter — anybody remember the 1984 version with Drew Barrymore as the little spark plug? — hitting both theaters and the Peacock streaming service on Friday. (Don’t ask me if this new, Zac Efron-enhanced version is any good — Universal won’t screen it for critics until Thursday night.) While there aren’t children setting things ablaze with their minds in Innocents, there are kids who can get terrible shit going if they put their minds to it.
Not to be confused with the 1961 thriller based on Henry James’s The Turning of the Screw, the 2016 historical French drama, or the Netflix show about a teenage girl with — you guessed it — superpowers, this Innocents comes to us from Norway. Eskil Vogt, who has co-written all of writer-director Joachim Trier’s films (including Trier’s recent, Oscar-nominated The Worst Person in the World), goes the lone writer-director route on Innocents. (He previously directed the drama Blind in 2014.)
Vogt presents a modern-day fable where kids are secretly superhuman. Nine-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her autistic older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) find this out when their family moves into an Oslo apartment complex. Ida begins hanging out with Ben (Sam Ashraf), a tormented boy who can move things with his mind — including people — while Anna forms a bond with Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), a telepathic girl with vitiligo who gets Anna to overcome her dysphasia.
With the parents too wrapped up in adult stuff to take notice, these youngsters form a fantastic four, working their psychic skills out in the woods. But while the girls are just goofing off, Ben — chip fully planted on his shoulder — starts to become a menace, using his talents to retaliate on those who dare cross him.
If you haven’t guessed by now, Innocents is a children’s story that may not be appropriate for young ones. There’s also a possibility this might turn off parents who find the thought of mind-controlling bad seeds to be frightening as hell. (Kids are already manipulative little bastards as it is.) In his own moody, metaphorical way, Vogt has crafted a tale of children figuring out right and wrong by basically making his own version of a superhero origin story. (I wouldn’t be surprised if this is just Vogt simply auditioning to helm the next MCU blockbuster.) The young actors are persistent in their precociousness, playing supernatural scamps who try to hold on to their childhood even when they are forced to make mature decisions.
I keep seeing the word “creepy” used to describe what goes down in Innocents. Yes, it’s suspenseful and even unsettling in a couple scenes, but it’s far from creepy. If anything, it’s yet another engaging foreign film where wise-beyond-their-years children go through an unbelievable journey that they’ll hopefully come out of as better people. (The more I think of it, Innocents would work great as a double feature with Petite Maman, Celine Sciamma’s wondrous latest.)
Unless Firestarter 2.0 churns out something better, The Innocents is the telekinetic-tyke movie to see this week.
“The Innocents” is in theaters and on demand Friday.