Little Ida (Rakel Lenora Flottum) has moved with her family to a new housing estate, somewhere she would rather not be. Her older sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) is severely autistic and Ida resents the extra attention she gets, taking advantage of Anna's lack of reactions to pinch her hard when no one is looking, but this is not enough to get rid of her frustrations. Her mother Henriette (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) wants her to make friends, so suggests Ida venture down to the play areas; this she does and meets Ben (Sam Ashraf), a bit of a loner who has a neat trick up his sleeve. He entertains lightly psychic powers...
One of those "gifted children" horrors where the gift is more of a curse to all those around them, this was a directorial effort from Eskil Vogt, best known as a screenwriter on Joachim Trier movies. It did not explain itself particularly, but wore its influences on its sleeve (early eighties David Cronenberg mostly) while bringing an icy tone that embraced the clinical rather than getting bloodthirsty, as if placing the four central kids under the microscope had they been on a petri dish. Were they worth this close-up consideration? Were they typical of children their age? Or their level of cruelty, for that matter?
There was no sugarcoating the impulses of the quartet here as they bond over their newfound mental abilities, realising they can boost their powers by joining forces. However, before we get there, Ben has killed a cat in fairly graphic style (all staged for the camera, but convincing), an inkling of things to come as Ida was initially happy about dropping said kitty down a stairwell to see what would happen (even the kids act like scientists here), but when Ben later crushes its injured head she starts to have second thoughts. The point was that whatever conscience they would have as adults is somewhat lacking in their younger version.
Actually, that's not quite true: the youngest member of the gang is Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) can claim the moral high ground as any misuse of the powers does not sit well with her, and as the story gradually develops (this was not a rollercoaster ride) she and Ben become antagonists, though he is the stronger of the two. Meanwhile Henriette is delighted that Anna is making sudden progress, beginning to speak in proper sentences instead of making random noises - each of the younger cast puts in a highly impressive performance, it had to be said. Anna is kind of a psychic battery for the others, amplifying their powers, though Ida does not emerge with her own unique powers till very late on.
The impression was that Vogt was making a statement about how morals develop: as bad things happen, the kids react in different ways, but also it's worth noting the adults are almost utterly oblivious to their antics, leaving them to their own devices in a way we are told modern kids simply are not thanks to being wrapped in cotton wool. Maybe this is a warning against that, maybe not, but lessons are learned by the conclusion, yet that lack of awareness of the supposed guardians of the youngsters, while reacting to the increasing murders (!) with concern, does not bring them to mollycoddling their offspring. It could be an indictment of society, but more likely it was purely a horror yarn with a science fiction flavour, very well handled overall but difficult to truly get behind since it took such satisfaction in showing the worst of humanity starts earlier than we could ever imagine. Music by Pessi Levanto (really very good).
[The Innocents - in cinemas and digital 20th May 2022.]