The Innocents (2021)

Directed by Eskil Vogt


In 2015 I attended a viewing of Goodnight Mommy (2014) with directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz in tow for what would prove to be an enlightening and lively Q&A session. One audience member asked how they handled filming such grotesque and potentially traumatizing subject matter when the actors are too young to understand what’s going on. I can’t remember their answers verbatim, but the gist was that what we (the viewer) see is not necessarily what these young actors are seeing, and that they’re often not even in the room when the action is taking place. We might see their reactions or expressions, then the camera cuts to a close-up of the mother in bed with a pair of small, disembodied hands entering the frame and gluing her mouth shut. In instances where the boys have blood on them (or they see blood on someone else), the substance used for blood may in fact not be red at all, but is turned red in post production (many older films actually use chocolate sauce for blood anyway).

Additionally, there has always been a sort of unspoken rule in Horror that children are off limits. Granted, some films clearly break this rule, but in general any actions taken against children in Horror are often suggested and never shown on screen. And using children in intense scenes often requires some editing magic to make it look as if the child is part of the action when in fact they were never even in the room.

The Innocents (2021) either ignores these rules entirely or has seemingly found new ways to make it appear as if terrible things are happening to (or being perpetrated by) children without them being negatively affected (fingers crossed). Led primarily by Ben (Sam Ashraf), a group of neighborhood children spend their Summer learning how to manipulate objects with their minds for kicks. Predictably things graduate swiftly from harmless experiments, like breaking sticks and moving leaves; to the macabre, like dumping boiling water on an unconscious person; then finally to full-blown murder.

The mood in this film is nearly as thick and heavy as I’ve ever experienced in a film. The audio (not just the soundtrack alone) is incredibly effective in drumming up the anxiety and creating an undercurrent of tension. The film seems to pull you in closer and closer as the story progresses. Before you realize it you’re caught in its web, then it reveals itself and all of its horrors. I have many Horror fan friends that could no longer watch Horror films that targeted children in any way once they became parents themselves. Considering all of the violent acts in The Innocents (2021) are perpetrated by the children (or by children via a proxy), I expect this would yield some next level discomfort, and likely many newly-home schooled children.

— B

My rating: 8/10

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