The Secret Lives of Children in a Horror Movie

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Of: Daniel Kothenschulte


A normal playground in a normal Norwegian apartment building.  cape light
“The Innocents” in the cinema: Norwegian Eskil Vogt’s horror film is told from the point of view of children. © Cape Light

Norwegian Eskil Vogt has cast ten-year-olds in the lead roles of his unique horror film The Innocents.

When ten-year-old children play the leading roles in a horror film, it’s quite an event. Involuntarily, windows of film history open, in which the supernatural is shown through the eyes of children – and sometimes the horror itself emanates from them.

Since Walt Disney chased his “Snow White” through the dark forest and since Charles Laughton’s modern variation of Hansel and Gretel’s “Night of the Hunters,” there have been a few more iconic moments in cinema: “The Shining by Stanley Kubrick, for example. , or Jack Clayton’s elegant horror piece from which this Norwegian drama not only stole its title: The Innocents. Based on the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw, Deborah Kerr played a governess who believes the children in her care have direct contact with the dead. However, no secrets can be obtained from the little ones.

Cinema: Children with psychic abilities in the film “The Innocents”

The four children who find themselves around an anonymous building in Eskil Vogt’s film of the same name have no governesses from whom they have to hide something. The fact that they belong to a lower social class may explain the large amount of dissatisfied time they spend during a hot summer in the basement of the house, in the playgrounds, at the edge of a forest. or on a highway bridge. One of the children, little Ida, sort of takes care of her sister Anna, who is a little older and autistic. She lost her language when she was three years old, but strange events made her speak again.

She seems to have a telepathic connection to the girl next door, Aisha, and Ida has also found a friend with psychic abilities. Ben, of the same age, has the uncanny ability to impose his will on people. Anna also discovers that she has a talent for telekinesis, but while she only uses it to spin pot lids, Ben has a dark imagination. Even before his supernatural gifts are revealed, a chilling scene reveals his cruel curiosity about caring for a stray cat.

What is remarkable in these episodes is the naturalness of their staging. The children’s play is of an uninterrupted naturalism, the supernatural emerges from the daily situations which surround them, seemingly without direction. The delicate coloring of the attractive camera work (Sturla Brandth Grøvlen) recalls another classic of child cruelty, Roland Klick’s “Bübchen”. Ida is then left alone to figure out how to put an end to her murderous playmate; his parents could not pass on the incredible. An equally inexplicable tragedy has already occurred.

“The Innocents” by Eskil Vogt: A classic of fantastic cinema

It is no exaggeration to classify this atypical film among the classics of fantastic cinema. Even if it seems to have nothing to do with the visual opulence specific to the genre, it reveals at second glance a remarkable aestheticism. The silo which majestically dominates a wooded landscape appears no less artificial than a Victorian villa.

In the breathtaking children’s game, the filmmaker generates a perfect counter-world with exterior realism. And in doing so, very imperceptibly, builds a bridge to the world of fairy tales, which here, of course, is stripped of all romantic magic. It only appears present as a covering for all the inexplicable that adults attribute to children, since there is no place for it in their daily lives.


Norway/Sweden/Denmark/Great Britain 2021. Director: Eskil Vogt. 117 minutes

In the choreography of this cinematic drama, which is almost too cool, all the elements play together, especially the film music of Pessi Levanto with its leitmotiv played on a children’s piano. But precisely because nothing is left to chance here, one also wonders what this ostensible social and ethnic localization consists of. While Ida and Anna are ethnically white Norwegians growing up with both parents, Aisha and Ben are of immigrant background and grow up without a father. The non-white children’s association with the supernatural would hardly be subject to accusations of exoticism if their surroundings were drawn as precisely as the sisters’.

“The Innocents” at the cinema: the film tells the story from the point of view of children

Presumably, none of this is intentional, and the filmmaker’s intention was simply to portray the multi-ethnic community that resides in the house. And as the film is largely told from the point of view of children, for whom it is not an issue, some gaps remain. However, they are all the more striking in that the film develops a great skill in presenting the fantastic in a believable and naturalistic environment.

In Cannes, where his non-genre drama competed in the Un Certain Regard competition, the filmmaker explained his inspiration with a striking daily observation: when he came to pick up his children at school, before they even noticed him, they behaved like total strangers. …

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