De uskyldige [The Innocents] (2021)

De uskyldige
Director: Eskil Vogt
Writer: Eskil Vogt
Cast: Rakel Lenora Fløttum, Alva Brynsmo Ramstad, Sam Ashraf, Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Morten Svartveit, Kadra Yusuf, Lisa Tønne
Seen on: 14.4.2022

Content Note: ableism, racism, animal abuse and death

Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum), her autistic sister Anna (Alba Brynsmo Ramstad) and their parents (Ellen Dorrit Petersen, Morten Svartveit) just moved into a giant apartment complex. Ida is not particularly happy about it, or the attention her parents pay her sister who she likes to hurt, convinced that Anna doesn’t feel pain because she can’t express it. When Ida sets out to explore her new home, she meets Ben (Sam Ashraf) with whom she shares her cruel streak. Ben also appears to have special powers, able to move a bottle cap by thought alone. And Ben isn’t the only one there with powers, it seems. There is also Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) who has a telepathic connection with Anna. The four set out to explore their abilities, but things start to spiral out of control.

De uskyldige is a tense and atmospheric film with excellent performances by the children, but also a couple of pretty problematic tropes and an ending that was a bit of a let-down.

The film poster showing Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) lying on a tire swing looking up, only that the swing rack and the ground are above her.

Vogt certainly knows how to build the tension in his film, and he quickly makes sure that the audience knows that this won’t be an easy ride for anybody. The outbursts of violence made me cringe in anticipation and then flinch as they were happening. Plus, I was very much invested in the characters and how things developed between them. In short, this is an engaging film that pulls you into the kids’ world and keeps you there in all of its darkness.

But I struggled with a couple of things. One was the portrayal of Anna (played by a non-autistic actor, as far as I know) where the film relies on the “magical disability/neurodivergency” trope with a dose of healing that felt entirely unnecessary to me and only reproduces harmful stereotypes. Another was the portayal of Ben. Ashraf is really amazing, especially when we get glimpses of the hurt boy behind the cruelty. But the film explores this way too little, so what remains is that the Brown boy is the one who is dangerous, who can’t be trusted with his power. Combined with the fact that [SPOILER] Aisha has to die to serve the white girls’ story [/SPOILER] this just becomes racist.

Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) looking scared.

The ending also didn’t work for me. On the one hand, there were a couple of logic gaps, but okay. On the other hand, the way the showdown was set in scene could have been interesting – amidst playing children who don’t realize what’s happening at all – but unfortunately, I also didn’t really know what was going on. Too much was left to insinuations, I think. Also, Ida’s part in it would have needed a little more foreshadowing in my opinion.

It’s definitely not that the film isn’t well made, but a few things would have needed readjusting before I would have been happy with it. Still, it’s effective and tense. Overall, I’d say it’s still worth seeing.

Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) staring into the distance.

Summarizing: partly problematic but definitely not bad.

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