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Wildland IMDB description: “Ida moves in with her aunt and cousins after the tragic death of her mother in a car accident. The home is filled with love, but outside of the home, the family leads a violent and criminal life.”
The Innocents IMDB description: “During the bright Nordic summer, a group of children reveal their dark and mysterious powers when the adults aren’t looking. In this original and gripping supernatural thriller, playtime takes a dangerous turn.”
Why I took them off the list: I had a lot of fun with my series of Double Feature film reviews of horror flicks during the month of October. So, I decided to resurrect the concept for a new monthly special and cover films I think would go together well for a viewing session in some other genres.
First up, a pair of recent drama/thrillers from Scandinavia that are quite different in execution but that both cover themes of the loss of innocence. Let’s dig in!
Review of Wildland (Kød & blod)
Although in theory a crime thriller, this Danish drama comes across as more of a dark coming-of-age story which sees its sensitive young protagonist unwittingly thrust into a family environment far removed from the one she’s used to, and forced to adapt accordingly.
The relatives she finds herself living with are clearly hugely influenced by the fearsome criminal clan from David Michôd’s intense Australian drama Animal Kingdom (2010), complete with an intimidating momma bear and brutish offspring. The narrative also takes a similar route to that earlier effort, following an oblivious innocent as they are gradually induced into increasingly dodgy normalized behavior.
What sets Wildland apart in the genre is the feminine touch that director Jeanette Nordahl brings to the material and the unique point of view of shy young Ida as she gradually begins to embrace this new lifestyle, only to realize it is far from the loving home the family first presents. The later developments in the story also reveal that Nordahl has some interesting and disturbing things to say about the vicious circle that these characters find themselves in.
Sidse Babett Knudsen Is Fantastic as Usual
Despite its somewhat familiar narrative, the biggest reason to see Wildland is the two standout performances. Young Sandra Guldberg Kampp is excellent as Ida, projecting a surly teenage malaise while also coming across as incredibly vulnerable.
The real MVP of Wildland though is Sidse Babett Knudsen as the family Matriarch Bodil. The actress taps into the same effortless charm and steely reserve she uses to fantastic effect as Birgitte Nyborg in the great Danish political series Borgen (2010-). At first, Knudsen presents Bodil as a far less obviously fearsome ruler of her household than Animal Kingdom’s Smurf Cody, which makes her even more terrifying when her ruthless side finally comes to light.
Final score: 7/10
Worth Checking Out?
Yes. Despite a familiar crime thriller narrative, Wildland is an absorbing drama thanks to its unique point of view and standout performances from the female members of the cast.
Wildland (Kød & blod) (2020)
Directed by Jeanette Nordahl
Written by Ingeborg Topsøe, Jeanette Nordahl (idea)
Review of The Innocents (De uskyldige)
The pervading sense of unease starts right away in this unsettling supernatural drama about the highly unusual things a group of bored young children get up to when out of their parent’s sight. In the first scene, a young girl awakens to distressed cries, but barely seems bothered. In fact, she seems more irritated.
The fact the screams belong to her mentally impaired sister doesn’t make a difference to young Ida. Instead of trying to soothe her, she cruelly pinches the disabled girl’s arm to add to her distress. The bad behavior on display gets worse from here, and only becomes more dangerous when Ida and her new playmates begin to experience and hone latent supernatural powers, including telekinesis and mind control.
Luckily, Ida does eventually begin to develop more empathy, grows a lot throughout the film, and has a satisfying character arc, while another of the kids goes down a darker path and emerges as the most troubled in a disturbing cautionary tale. There’s also a rather touching narrative of a non-verbal girl finding a way to communicate with those around her in there too.
Well-Acted, and Tense and Gripping
What starts as a relatively realistic fantasy-tinged drama becomes much more of an overt horror film as it goes on. But although the powers the kids display become increasingly extreme, The Innocents manages to remain tense and gripping throughout.
Like in the similarly-themed Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, the children’s powers are conveyed with subtle yet effective visual effects and unsettling sound design rather than with flashy VFX and explicit violence. This technique meshes well with the eerily mundane surroundings of the high-rise building the family makes their new home.
There is also a smartly understated quality to the unfolding events. For example, the big showdown between the opposing factions takes place not on a crowded street with bystanders fleeing in terror, but in a sand-covered playground where parents play with their babies completely oblivious to the psychic battle going on around them.
It also has to be said that the kids are all incredibly effective and naturalistic in their roles. The film is fantastically cast in general, with each child leaving a believable and haunting impression.
If the film has one flaw it’s the hefty runtime, and during some drawn-out scenes it feels like it could have been edited down into a leaner, tighter thriller. But then again, the languid pace often works for the immersive story and the child’s-eye view of the disturbing events as they play out over a slow, lazy summer.
Final score: 9/10
Worth Checking Out?
Yes. The Innocents is a unique spin on the creepy kid horror sub-genre, a startlingly realistic-feeling supernatural thriller that asks some provocative questions about children’s behaviour while remaining tense and gripping throughout.
The Innocents (2021)
Written and Directed by Eskil Vogt