The World is a Dangerous Playground in Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents
If you left Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness thinking that it was going to be hands down the darkest and scariest superhero movie of the summer, you may be in for a surprise. The Innocents, a Norwegian-language film from Writer-director Eskil Vogt, is stealing a bit of Marvel’s thunder.
“I didn’t know I’d made a superhero movie until it premiered at Cannes,” Vogt says. “A lot of the American media wrote about it like ‘Oh, it’s this original twist on the superhero origin movie.’ And I went ‘Oh, oh yeah, Maybe.’ But it wasn’t my plan.”
The 47-year-old filmmaker from Oslo had two films in competition at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival: The Innocents and The Worst Person in the World. Vogt co-wrote the latter film with its director, Joachim Trier, and each film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The Innocents is the story of Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum), a young girl who is charged with keeping an eye on her older sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), who is on the autism spectrum. When Ida starts playing with a brother and sister, Ben (Sam Asraf) and Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Ashiem), the children are drawn to each other, and they become playmates over summer vacation, with the nonverbal Anna usually right in tow but frequently left to her own devices to entertain herself.
“I just became curious about childhood again, and it triggered memories in me, and I felt like I suddenly had a whiff of that feeling. I was reminded of being a child and how different it is to be a child than to be an adult … “
Playing together away from adult supervision, the children discover that they have hidden powers, leading to experimentation and mischief. Before long the film takes a dark and serious turn from which there is no going back. “I wanted to make something about the magic of childhood being real,” Vogt says. “And that meant they had powers, and if kids had powers that meant that they will do stupid stuff with that power. It will be dangerous.”
The Innocents is a dark and disturbing yet profoundly intriguing film that explores some heavy themes, and as such, Vogt has found that he has be to careful and clear when answering the question of where the concept was born. “When I say this, people get the wrong idea, but it came from my kids,” Vogt says, explaining that more specifically, it was having children of his own and the effect it had on him that inspired him to make The Innocents. “My kids are not like the kids in the film—at least I don’t think so,” Vogt says with a laugh. “I just became curious about childhood again, and it triggered memories in me, and I felt like I suddenly had a whiff of that feeling. I was reminded of being a child and how different it is to be a child than to be an adult. How differently you experience the world and your concepts of time and reality.”
“I didn’t know I’d made a superhero movie until it premiered at Cannes,” Vogt says.
Vogt notes that as adults, people tend to look back on childhood through rose-colored glasses, idealizing the joy and the sense of wonder, and they tend to forget that there’s a lot of complexity to that period in a person’s life. “They just talk about the positive feelings,” Vogt says. “But you have negative ones. You have the fear and imagination that just runs wild.” Vogt ran with this realization and knew he wanted to tell a story about the harsher realities of a child’s experience. Vogt intended for The Innocents to have a heavy horror element, but he was more interested in exploring the dramatic possibilities than in going for cheap scares. “And then I would think ‘Oh, maybe the horror film fans will think it’s too much of a drama, and the drama people will think it’s too much of a horror movie,” Vogt says. “But I don’t care, because I’m interested in this, and that means someone else might be as well.” Vogt was not looking to make a movie about good versus evil, but rather about the potential for both in the choices people make, especially when we’re given a taste of power and control over others.
Vogt knew that the performances of his young cast would make or break the film, and the casting process was extensive. “My casting director kind of challenged me to put aside all ideas of what the kids looked like,” Vogt says. “She said, ‘You need to have quantity to find quality, and if your idea is that it should be a boy with brown hair, then you are missing out.’” Vogt opted to look for children who were interested and captured the qualities he wanted for his characters, and instead of casting to fit the script, he rewrote the script to fit his cast. “We changed the sex … [and] the ethnicity of all four kids,” Vogt says. “And I would have missed out on some amazing talents if I had just been really set on what was written in the script.”
The Innocents was met with overwhelmingly positive responses at Cannes, followed by Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, where it was picked up for distribution by IFC Midnight. The film has a certified fresh rating of 96% on Rotten Tomatoes, and it is currently playing in theaters, as well as streaming on-demand. As the heat of the summer begins, if you’re looking for new experiences in entertainment as you try to beat the heat, Eskil Vogt’s The Innocents is easily one of the best and most interesting films you’ll find. Remember, however, to approach with caution: looks can be deceiving, and The Innocents is anything but child’s play.
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