Monday, February 6, 2023

Coming of Age with Superpowers

Welcome to the Annual February Shortening! In honor of the shortest month on a blog written by a short woman, all posts are devoted to stories about vertically challenged villains. If you, reader of any height, have your own mini-horror to share, do so in the comments and I'll include you in a final post roundup as the calendar changes!

You KNOW we can't start a fertile February without planting a few bad seeds first. That's right! It's the evil child installment of The Shortening!

Quick Plot: Ida is a moody 9ish-year-old who seems to be eternally sour over her developmentally disabled sister Anna. When their family moves to a high-rise for the summer, Ida quickly befriends local psychopath Ben. 

Sure, Ida got some kicks from sticking glass in Anna's shoes and squishing  innocent worms, but Ben's idea of fun involves cat murder (thankfully, clearly not in any way harming the actual cat actor). The boy must die. 

That's easier said than done once Ben starts to display Carrie-like abilities. Meanwhile, another young neighbor named Aisha is experiencing some kind of psychic connection to Anna, helping the girl speak for the first time in her young life. What in the village of the damned is going on here?

The Innocents doesn't really tell you, and that's okay. Written and directed by Eskil Vogt (half of the team behind Thelma and The Worst Person In the World), this is an unusual film in the best of ways. There's an immediate undercurrent of something very wrong. Young Rakel Lenora Fløttum as Ida initially makes for the perfect bad seed until Ben proves to be far worse. As that unfolds, we get to realize our own mistake in how quickly we judged Ida. 

J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan is commonly thought today as a celebration of youth, but what makes it so interesting today is how clear-headed it is at understanding the utter selfishness (and in Barrie's words, "heartlessness") of children. We love to romanticize the beauty of childhood innocence, but it typically takes us a whole lot of years of heartbreak to understand what cruelty is and how dangerous a thing it is to wield. 

The Innocents is fully aware that children's souls are a mess. Sure, a kinder kid like Aisha might already know right from wrong, but someone like Ida, who has clearly grown up resenting that her sister demands more attention from her parents, is still working through morality. It's not until she's fully confronted with what seems like pure evil that she starts to make decisions more in line with the light side.

There are a lot of ways to read The Innocents, and an analysis could go even deeper if you dig into the racial and gendered elements also at play. I'll leave that for another day, but in the meantime, check the film out and come back with your own takes. 

High Points
I'll always champion a strong genre film that makes effective use of daylight, and The Innocents is high on that list. Children are terrifying BECAUSE of how fresh-faced and innocent they look under the sun. Why bother to hide it with unnecessary darkness?

Low Points
I blame myself for having to break The Innocents up into three chunks to watch over the course of two days, so the odd pacing is more on me than Vogt. I was shocked when I realized I had reached the end of the film because, well, it feels a bit like something is missing. But how much of that is Vogt's unusual storytelling and how much is me watching under less than optimal conditions, I leave you to decide

Lessons Learned
We can whine about kids today preferring mobile devices to the outdoors, but tell me you still feel sad about that after watching this movie

When someone is mean, you tell a grownup

There are few ways to die that are sadder than doing so in the middle of boiling frozen hot dogs

The Good Son Watch

Considering how many times I reference this movie, I think it's time to make the callouts an official section. And yes, there are plenty of thrillers starring obscenely blond children that aren't The Good Son, but I can't help but think of it when a key moment of violence involves a highway overpass. 

The Innocents is yet another recommendation findable on Shudder. I don't know that it will please everyone, but it scratched my evil child itch in a wonderfully unexpected way.


  1. I just watched this because of your review, and I loved it! Maybe you mentioned Paperhouse in another post where you talked about this film, or maybe I just had that one on my mind because it was another 'kids in a scary-ish but definitely not a horror movie' film, but anyway, I thought there were a lot of similarities between the two, but I liked The Innocents way more. Much moodier and tense.

    Also, the acting was excellent! I usually hate child actors because their acting sucks so hard (I know I shouldn't judge them as harshly as I do adults but I can't help it -- lousy acting just destroys any suspension of disbelief for me, and I can't handle that) but almost all of the acting in this was top notch. It's funny because I watched Saw for the first time the other night and was so annoyed by the piss acting that I would have turned it off after the first 10 minutes if not for the fact I was watching it with friends. Anyway, the stark contrast in acting quality just made the kids' performances in The Innocents that much more impressive to me.

    Yet another great DDH recommendation!

    1. Those kids were great! The little girl playing Ida and her mother are real-life mother/daughter, which is really interesting and probably helped a lot. Glad you dug it! And it's funny, I find myself thinking, "this has Paperhouse elements in it" almost every five films these days. It's really fascinating how sometimes you don't realize how deeply a film imprints on you right away.

      Oh, and it's been a while since I watched the original Saw, but something pretty fun is to listen to the commentary track, which is basically Lee Whannell and James Wan constantly explaining how little money and time they had and how virtrually every scene could only be two takes. Definitely doesn't help when casting kids!