The connection of telekinetic powers threatens these kids, one of whom is autistic.
Its not often we get to see a foreign film with an autistic character. We’ve mostly seen them in American movies like “Rain Man” or “Come Play,” and sometimes in international films like the South Korean film “Split.” There’s a subplot in the Norwegian supernatural thriller “The Innocents,” in which the character of Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) has autism, and lost her ability to speak when she was 4-years-old.
As I was watching her, I wanted to make sure she was autistic, and her shy little sister Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) clarifies that she does. Because of the movie’s plot in which four kids develop some powers, she regains her voice, and her parents (Fløttum’s real-life mother Ellen Dorrit Petersen and Morton Svartveit) are overjoyed.
When you’re an autistic film critic like me, you’re interested in the subject. You want it to be sincere, unlike Sia’s “Music,” which degraded the disability in so many aggravating ways. And you want it to thrive on different genres like how “The Accountant” or “Come Play” did. “The Innocents” is released by IFC Midnight, so it’s obvious things are gonna get pretty freaky.
It’s not just it’s depiction of autism I’m singling out, but also for how it depicts fantasy movie kids with unique abilities, who can find the good and evils within themselves. We’ve seen this kind of thing done before, and as long as they’re handled in fresh ways, we’ll continue to see them.
Ida and Anna make friends with the bullied Ben (Sam Ashraf), and the vitiligo-stricken Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, who has this condition in real life). Here are their powers, and here’s how I would clarify. Ida has no powers, but Ben has telekinetic powers, Aisha can hear her neighbors whispering at night, and as I’ve mentioned Anna regains her speaking voice. But what I didn’t mention yet is somehow, Ben and Aisha’s powers become connected with Anna. That’s not exactly good news.
As you might expect in movies when kids or teens develop powers, like in “Chronicle” or “Akira” for example, things take a darker path. This applies to Ben, who can “fetch” people into doing what he wants them to do, even the most vile things like murder. In summation, he’s no Charles Xavier. He’s a bad kid.
Ida has no powers (as I’ve mentioned), at least we think she doesn’t, but she does have a personality and brain to try to figure out the best and the worst out of people. She’s probably one to talk since in the earlier scenes, she bullies her sister to see if she would react to certain pains. In the later scenes, she’s smart enough not to tell her mother Ben is mentally killing people. I’m sure she knows her mom lives in reality, so she believes this can’t happen. But it can. That’s why she has to try to stop Ben on her own.
Parts of the movie are either boring or vague, but “The Innocents” is still directed with thrills and personalities by Eskil Vogt, who also wrote some of Joachim Trier’s films (“The Worst Person in the World” being their most current collaboration). And he knows how to guide these child actors who use their words, facial expressions, and emotions to process the darkness of their powers. The best performances would come from Ramstad in a convincing autistic role, Fløttum with a mellow aspect, and Ashraf with a moody nature. They can either be movie kids or they can’t be, but either way, you’re able to see them adapt to their surroundings without being or predictable or tedious. In fact, there’s a few later scenes that I didn’t see coming.
I’m going to take a break from distinguishing commercial films from independent films, but I can tell you the movie wants to be daring and original with no easy story formulas and doesn’t rely on the wall-to wall effects. “The Innocents” is rather strange and dangerous in the ways we see how the children’s powers can be problematic. “Problematic” is putting it mildly. How about “chilling and scary?” Yeah, those are probably the right words to describe the outcomes. IFC Midnight almost always know the right horror films to distribute. Circle back to my review of “Hatching” from two weeks ago.
In Select Theaters This Friday