The Innocents

Reviewed by Roger Gook

The film shown at the Keswick Film Club last Sunday was a Norwegian film titled "The Innocents". This supposed innocence of children is soon subverted as four children living in suburban Olso develop telepathic and telegenic powers. The film builds slowly with the disturbing sound track giving their everyday life a very uncomfortable edge. The children, brilliantly acted, begin to use these powers in remarkably demonic ways, with one being killed by her mother and another's mother being scalded to death. One child raises the question of how such manifest evil should be dealt with and tries, unsuccessfully, to kill the boy who seems to control them.

Obviously a film like this can't be said to be enjoyable in the normal sense, but it has gathered plaudits internationally for its depiction of the banality of evil, and certainly in Keswick most of the audience were impressed.

However I find myself in the minority, being unimpressed and unable to find the world of the film credible or convincing. For a film to work for me it must create a believable world in which the story happens. This might be a distant planet, a country house, or in this case the actions of four children. The director seems keen to show the audience that the children were damaged before they acquired powers by showing various cruel acts, so with these extra powers they naturally inflicted further cruelty. But there was no insight into how this trauma might translate into them inflicting cruelty on others. When a child deliberately scalds his mother and leaves her to die on the kitchen floor, shouldn't there be some attempt at logic or reason? It seemed that the director had thought of various scenarios to shock us, and then randomly put them on the screen to manipulate us into a reaction.

I also felt a racist undertone – the woman who killed her daughter was black, the woman who was scalded was Asian, the main perpetrator was brown, and the family that came out on top were of course Nordic white. In a lazy effort to make the children recognisably weird, one had a facial disfigurement and one was very autistic – I thought that was discredited 30 years ago with Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.

Horror is a difficult film genre to get right. Traditional horror films that have devices such as a slasher, zombies or noises in the night usually work on their own rules, but I think this film was trying to do something more, but because of lack of attention to the narrative of its world, for me it was a manipulative mess.