Casual cruelty and playful perversion make up the slow-burning scares of writer-director Eskil Vogt’s sophomore feature whose child characters convey a creepy conception of ethical sentiment. Privileged protagonist Ida (excellent as her young co-stars: Rakel Lenora Fløttum) vents her frustration about her parent’s move to a bare concrete complex by torturing her autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) and animal abuse. Rapidly escalating, the agony the little girl and her new friend Ben (Sam Ashraf) inflict first upon insects and invertebrates, then a trustful cat, unmasks the inhumane impulses central to the menacing morality lesson.
Spontaneous sadism creates an immediate bond between the two. Meanwhile, Anna forms a friendship with gentle neighborhood girl Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim). As the quartet discovers they possess varying telekinetic abilities, goofing around gives way to portentous power play. Here the plot reveals its distinctive deviation from the movies it draws on: Jack Clayton’s eponymous adaptation of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw, Firestarter, Village of the Damned andthe Twilight Zone classic It’s a Good Life. The latter’s childlike monster Anthony is like a counterpart to Ben who becomes a deadly danger not only to his female friends.
Almighty Anthony with his picture perfect US-American white middle-class small town family became the epitome of toxic male WASP dominance. Ben, however, the ethnic kid of a slightly neglectful, less well-off single mother, turns into an undersized embodiment of bourgeoise white paranoia of dark-skinned males from sketchy backgrounds, supposedly threatening the innocence of blond, blue-eyed girls like Ida and Anna. Their parents (Ellen Dorrit Pedersen, Morten Svartveit) are notably presented as the only intact family. Also raised by an ethnic single mother, Aisha is seen looking sadly at a photo of her absent father.
His whiteness and her girlishness make Aisha less of a disruptive danger than Ben. While Ida is able to learn that non-verbal individuals feel pain, Ben is outright declared unreformable. He is the one leading Ida into the nearby forest associated with brutish instincts and killing Aisha as she opposes his telekinetic terror, something he succeeds in because Aisha’s mother was „all alone“. Cleverly concealed in unobtrusive visual and verbal cues, the socio-psychological subtext is substantiated by the director’s comments: children would be born without empathy the development of which was all up to their parents.
Vogt’s archaic views make the kid’s actions seem less an issue of psychopathological predispositions than proper parenting. The second is the prerogative of the sole traditional white couple. While artistically accomplished, the supernatural thriller implies that families not fitting into a traditionalist, nationalist image are less capable to raise their children. Just like the serene suburban setting harbors volatile violence, the mesmerizing mise-en-scène feeds into problematic presumptions. Paradoxically, those questionable concepts only corroborate the unsettling conclusion of the deeply ambivalent tale about the proximity of tranquility and terror: Even the most innocuous veneer may hide corruption.
- OT: De uskyldige
- Director: Eskil Vogt
- Screenplay: Eskil Vogt
- Country: Norway
- Year: 2021
- Running Time: 117 min.
- Cast: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashraf, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Morten Svartveit, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Lisa Tønne, Irina Eidsvold Tøien, Marius Kolbenstvedt, Kim Atle Hansen, Irina Eidsvold Tøien, Marius Kolbenstvedt, Georg Grøttjord-Glenne
- Release date (US/GER): 13.04.2022/14.04.2022
- Image © Capelight Pictures