The Innocents: a horror masterpiece made in Norway [critique]

The new solo feature film by screenwriter Joachim Trier? A creepy little movie about kids with psychic powers that suddenly unfolds into one epic smack.

Old accomplice of Joachim Trier since their cinema studies in Norway – where they spat on the cinema of their native country and dreamed of shooting great international works, formally mastered – Eskil Vogt co-wrote all the films of his best friend, of New deal in 2006 at the triumphal Julie (in 12 chapters) screened at Cannes last year. In their common filmo, there is a slight frustration named Thelma. The story of a teenager raised in a strict religious family who develops very powerful psychic powers. This repressed gift symbolized, for Thelma, the affirmation of his homosexuality in the face of his circle of bigots. A good idea for a film, but which lacked a bit of ventilation. It was icy, clean, a little haughty. Frustrating, therefore, that the Trier-Vogt duo fails to crack the code of the supernatural terror film, to combine it in their precise, fair and human cinema. It is precisely at the beginning of the writing of Thelma that Eskil Vogt proposed to focus the film on a band of very young children with powers. The idea was abandoned, but Vogt ended up making it the subject of his second solo feature (7 years after Blind: A Daydream), both screenwriter and director.

One summer, in a Norwegian housing estate (we imagine that we don’t say “HLM” over there, but that gives you the decor), a couple has just moved in with their two daughters: the oldest is mentally handicapped, and she suffers the more or less conscious cruelties of her little sister. The latter will meet two other kids, play with them along the long days of the Norwegian summer. And it turns out the kids have mysterious powers. The Innocents will therefore accomplish all that Thelma failed to accomplish. The supernatural thriller becomes a grand epic tale about childhood, its watches and its fears. In an era where genre cinema is self-destructing through its nostalgic, suffocating and morbid references to a fantasized past (the 70s, 80s, 90s… choose your cam), Eskil Vogt avoids old clichés and chooses the radicality. No neon lights or playlist retro on the program, but the desire for absolute realism: the camera is placed at child’s height, and this point of view becomes the whole issue of the film.

Eskil Vogt and the cast of The Innocents / Christian Breidlid
Eskil Vogt and the cast of The Innocents / Christian Breidlid

The title of the film obviously refers to the innocent of Jack Clayton (also a model of Others of Amenábar) but above all indicates that the experience of childhood is situated beyond good and evil, that one can experience a feeling of horror in a thicket during a game before returning wisely to have a snack and move on. Childhood trauma is not a notion to be taken lightly or filmed, and Vogt demonstrates great accuracy by showing little Ida trembling in her bed with fear, seeing the menacing shadow of a plant become without a doubt in his mind some unspeakable monster. “No doubt”, because this kind of effect is treated with great modesty, the framing in a fixed shot inviting us to try to understand what is going on in Ida’s head rather than imposing a vision on us. It’s not just the camera that scales with the kids (all absolutely stunning); the whole film invites us to put ourselves on their level. To better give us a good slap. Not only The Innocents really, really freaks out, but his ambition radiates beyond the simple push.

Remember when, as a kid, you probably climbed the stairs of a residence – once past the first floor, you climbed into dizzying altitudes. This scale effect, perfectly reproduced in The Innocents, gives the smallest event, the smallest place, terrifying dimensions. The upsurge of chaos that will be caused by these kids, destructive and capricious, straight inspired by the visions of Katsuhiro Ōtomo, only has more force. The Innocents nothing of a frozen theoretical object – so, once again: it is not Thelmait’s more Shyamalan’s cinema than The Innocents draws its strength. Note also that one of the kids endowed with psychic powers looks like a mini-Shyamalan: it’s a funny idea of ​​cinema, but, information taken from the director, it was not at all conscious and it is just a coincidence. It’s a true childhood drama of epic dimensions, as thrilling and terrifying as what your prepubescent imagination could conjure up from the shade of a tree. Sweet memories, right?

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