Exclusive Interview: Innocents Writer/Director Eskil Vogt Talks About His Cast, The Dark Side Of Childhood, And More

A Strong Contender for Best Horror Film of the Year, Eskil Vogt’s Innocents also takes a place among cinematic history’s superior explorations of juvenile cruelty and paranormal powers. Set in and around a Norwegian tower, it focuses on nine-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Fløttum) and her slightly older autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), and what happens when Ida begins to discover her abilities. latent psychics. Two other kids on the block, Ben (Sam Ashraf) and Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), have similar gifts, and as the four begin to spend more time together, the children’s ability to use them for good or the evil becomes more and more pronounced.

Avoiding the flashy visual effects that have become the norm in films about young telepaths and telekinetics, Vogt deftly and inexorably builds jaw-dropping tension throughout. Innocents. While the payoffs are brutal at times, it’s the emotional violence and conflict that makes the film stand out, along with the superb performances from the four little leads (especially Ramstad, who isn’t really on the spectrum). Vogt first discussed his work with these young talents hereand below detail their cast, inspirations and themes behind Innocentsand more.

What childhood feelings and memories did you draw from when you were doing Innocents?

My first idea at the beginning was about the magic of childhood, to make it real – those things that you believe in when you’re a kid, how you can play something with your friends and it feels real to you. And it doesn’t have to be scary, you know? It could go in another, more fun and family-friendly direction, but it’s not. I guess what came to me early on is that I have memories, and a lot of people I’ve talked to do too, of doing some pretty cruel things in childhood. Almost everyone I spoke to, to some extent, had been cruel to animals or other children or younger siblings, or had been abused by other people. So why is this?

My own memory is, I don’t remember how old I was, I was quite young, and my parents gave me an air gun to play with when we were on vacation, because we were quite isolated. I saw a seagull go by, I shot it and I could see that I had hit it because it was moving through the air. He was a big bird, and he didn’t just drop dead. But I had picked up somewhere that the lead, of which these bullets are made, is poisonous, so all that day and all that night, I thought of this seagull dying in agony, poisoned by my lead bullet. It didn’t even occur to me to tell my parents about it, probably because I felt guilty. This stuff is what kids struggle with, without telling their parents. But I felt that maybe it was a very useful experience for me, because it made me realize that you shouldn’t be cruel to animals, so I learned something that day. Of course, I knew you shouldn’t be cruel to animals, but after that day, I felt and it became part of my own set of values.

And I thought maybe that’s what happened in childhood: you transgress your parents’ morals, because that’s how morals start. Your parents say, “No, no, don’t do that” or “You should always say thank you.” You have these things handed to you, and at some point you have to do some of the things that your mother said you shouldn’t, and see what that does. And maybe that hurts, but at least that’s your experience, or maybe you think you don’t always have to say thank you, you know? You find your own set of values, your own set of moral values. So it seemed logical, if this childhood magic was real and these children had powers, that they would try to test them, and obviously something bad would happen.

Speaking of animals, there’s a particularly cruel scene involving an animal in Innocents‘ The first act. Was it placed there to irritate the audience early on or to make them feel unsafe?

It’s a very important part of that, that if something like this happens at the beginning of the film, the viewer will know that anything can happen; the stakes are high and you don’t feel safe after that. I find it interesting that when you make a horror movie, you don’t have to show things all the time, you just have to make it clear that you can, and anything can happen. This means that the anticipation of horror is often far worse than seeing it. Innocents is less violent in some ways than most horror movies, but I hope you feel that more than a lot of those movies. The bottom line for me was that it was about testing the limits, and some kids find their limits later than others. And that scene is a very pivotal moment where one of the characters finds their limit, and another doesn’t, which is a pivotal moment for the rest of what happens in the film.

Innocents is very subtle in the way he portrays psychic powers; there are not many visual effects. Can you talk about this more suggestive approach?

I love supernatural powers in movies because it’s a big challenge for the filmmaker. In bad movies, people talk about it and you understand it through the dialogue. But in the best supernatural movies, you get it by seeing something, and the filmmakers have to invent a visual language to get it across to you. Like, how do you film telepathy? It’s a new kind of language that needs to be invented, and I find it fascinating, and so much fun and interesting to do. What I felt about this movie was, OK, we have telepathy, and we also have telekinetic abilities, and there’s so many cliches about it, and they’re so easy to do now with computer generated effects; you can create spectacular things. But what interested me in this film is that I could have a climax where the viewer knows what’s at stake, the kids know what’s at stake, but parents and other adults can walk past and have no idea what is going on.

I also felt that I shouldn’t try to compete with Marvel movies and their big effects. It was important to me that the effects I had were good, and there’s expensive CGI with very small things moving, and that was super hard to do. It would have been much cheaper to blow out all the windows in the building, but if that happened, all the adults would react and bring the children home, and the scene would be over. I wanted it to be more discreet, more real and closer to the characters.

You have a remarkable young cast in the film; did it take a long search to find the right children?

Yes, he did. When I write stuff, I try not to think about practical matters, because it’s very restrictive. I need to be free to imagine anything. But I’m not naive either, and when I was writing Innocents and it was four kids and a cat, i knew i was going to have a tough shoot [laughs]. So with the producer [Maria Ekerhovd], we decided to spend a lot of the budget on casting, and we spent about a year finding the right kids, and then a bit more time working with them and teaching them about acting. We even switched roles to accommodate the four we found. The two brothers became two sisters, and we changed the ethnicity of two of them because those two were so awesome. So it was just open casting, to get the best kids, and then work with them, make them real collaborators, get them to understand acting.

Sometimes it was like a gift from the movie gods: a ten-year-old girl [Ramstad] arrives and has the ability to truly act like someone on the severe autism spectrum. It was like, OK, this role was written for a fourteen-year-old boy, but the moment she walked into the room, it was obvious she had to do it because she was so awesome. This openness helped us find great children, and then we continued to work with them as if they were our equals, and we never spoke to them, we always explained everything to them and we never surprised them. They have become super-professional actors.

Innocents '22 Ramstad

Ramstad is so good that at first I thought she might actually be on the spectrum. How did you work with her to get this performance from her?

We were wondering if we should find someone on the spectrum, but that would have been very difficult because Anna is on the severe end of the spectrum, and you can’t really work with someone who isn’t verbal. ; you can’t even get their permission, you don’t know if they want to be there. It’s a great thing; you have to know that people are comfortable on set and have the means to communicate that, so it was out of place. Also, the character changes over the course of the story, and that’s what worried me the most. But when we found Alva, we could see that she had the ability to just relax her face, clear her eyes, not look at anything, keep her mouth open. Very few kids can do that, because they’ll feel embarrassed, but Alva didn’t have that, and she was such a good actress.

Plus, I had done so much research and watched so many documentaries that I could show him some of it and say, “Look how he uses his hands, that kid on the spectrum, and watch how that woman acts when she’s happy and how she moves her body. Then, the next time we rehearse, I’ll give her the opportunity to use those things, and she’ll pick them up and do things with her hands that she hadn’t done. Once again, I was so lucky to find her again because looking back, I don’t see how we could have made the film with someone else.

Innocents hits theaters Friday, May 13.