It took me a few months to catch up with Eskil Vogt‘s The Innocents. I finally streamed it last night, and wow…easily one of the most unusual and strikingly rendered creep-out films I’ve ever seen. A series of eerie, first-rate jolts that accumulate into a feeling of being sucked in and tied down. And yet a film that leads to a moral reckoning.

It definitely ranks alongside The Witch and The Babadook and films of that ilk, films aimed well above the heads of your average horror-loving sloths who prefer the usual formulaic slasher crap. I’m not, however, calling it a slice of elevated horror because Vogt, who also co-wrote the screenplay of Joachim Trier‘s The Worst Person in the World, never allows the film to step into flat-out psycho screamville. But he certainly gives you the willies.

And I loved the fact that The Innocents focuses entirely on four pre-pubescent children living in a high-rise Oslo apartment complex, and what they’re seeing, feeling, channelling and manipulating by way of ESP, mind-reading and telekinesis, and how their parents never realize what’s actually going on. Start to finish the parents don’t have clue #1.

It’s about one of these kids (Sam Ashraf‘s Ben, a ten-year-old of Indian descent who lives with his single mom) having discovered the ability to move small objects via telekinesis, and Ben revealing this gift to Ida (Rakel Lenora Flottum), a quietly observant lass of relatively few words (or certainly when her mom and dad are around) who seems around eight years old. Ida has an older sister, Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), who’s suffering from non-verbal austism, and yet once Ben allows them to marvel at his special abilities Ida and Anna start to acquire a vague form of ESP and mind-reading on their own.

Soon added to this equation is Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), an eight-year-old neighbor with vitiligo who intuitively “reads” Anna, who in turn gradually starts to communicate and even talk as she picks up on the tremor-like powers of the vaguely weird Ben.

Alas, Ben soon reveals himself to be a demonic little sadist who doesn’t blink an eye as he drops Aisha’s cat from a high stairwell, and then crushes the poor thing’s head. And that’s just the beginning of the killings. I won’t reveal Ben’s other victims, but I did find fault in the matter of a certain adult who winds up dead on a kitchen floor. Ben is no dummy, and he surely understands that dead bodies have to be buried or burnt or they’ll stink the place up. I don’t know why Ben (i.e., Vogt) doesn’t attend to this basic no–brainer situation.

Telekinesis, thought transference…you can sense early on that increasing weirdness is right around the corner, and that Ben will eventually turn into a version of that little Twilight Zone shit from 60 years ago who flatlined people he didn’t like and turned one alcoholic neighbor into a jack-in-the-box and then buried him 50 feet under a cornfield.

This is a very effective, highly original, low-key children’s tale that puts the hook in (it actually feels like a kind of serum) and never lets up.

Ben and his mom, of course, are immigrants of color (ditto Aisha and her mom). If and when The Innocents is remade for American audiences there’s no way the evil Ben character will be played by a young actor of color, and certainly not by a kid of African-American descent. Non-white actors of whatever age cannot play demonic killers. Okay, it’s possible, I suppose, but highly unlikely.

The Innocents premiered in Cannes under the Un Certain Regard program, but I wasn’t there. Nor was I at Austin’s Fantastic Fest when it showed there in September ’21. IFC picked it up but did the film no favors by labelling it as an IFC Midnight thing, which suggests it’s a genre film aimed at low-rent horror fans. It’s much better than that — it’s an elegant, odd little spooker that could have been a Jack Clayton or Roman Polanski film in the mid ’60s.