The Innocents [2021]

“Mama? What do you do when someone’s mean?”


The Innocents was directed by Eskil Vogt, and released in 2021. It was the first feature film of the 2022 sci-fi-london.com festival. It’s a Norwegian/Finnish film. 

In the beginning of the film, a family have moved to a new area in what I believe is rural Norway. The family is made up of a mother and father (you never learn what their names are) and their two children Ida and Anna. Anna is the eldest of the two and is a non-verbal autistic child, probably early teens, and her younger sister is Ida. It’s clear from the start that Ida has an almost sadistic quality to her personality, as she will often pinch Anna to try to get a response from her but Anna, of course, cannot talk. When they move in it’s the summer so the block they live in is very quiet with very few families present, and they grapple with living in this new area. One of the first scenes is where Ida stands by the bank of a small lake and it is across the water that she sees a young boy, who she will later come to learn is Ben. 

Ida’s mother encourages her to go play in the local area and she does so. She formally meets Ben, who is similarly a loner and pretty soon they are spending many days together playing. Soon Ida learns that Ben has some sort of magic ability to move things with his mind which he demonstrates to Ida. They seem to have a similar sadism and there is a traumatising scene where they drop a kitten down a stairwell in glee (Ben uses it as practice for his abilities) but when Ida realises the kitten is actually hurt and sees Ben crush its skull, she knows that they have gone to far and she begins to distance herself from him. 

One day, Ida’s mother asks her to take Anna with her out to play. Anna then befriends a girl called Aisha who also appears to have a special ability which allows her to connect with Anna. Aisha is able to hear what Anna is saying in her mind and feel what she’s feeling, and soon she is even able to assist Anna in talking. There’s a couple scenes where Aisha mouths words and Anna is then able to say them herself which is revealed eventually to Ida and Anna’s parents (though they are unaware that mystical powers have anything to do with why this has happened). Aisha, Anna, Ida and Ben then spend time together; I’m guessing all is forgiven between Ida and Ben’s earlier kitten episode. However there is a clash when Ben becomes angry and lashes out. Anna squares up to Ben in that moment, as he threatens to use his powers to hurt Aisha, and it is clear that Anna bestows similar powers to Ben. The clash causes a ripple forcing a tree to fall and part of it goes into Anna’s leg. Ben runs off, and Ida/Aisha take Anna home. Anna’s mother is angry at Ida for not saying how this happened and blames her for not having looked after her properly (which she later apologises about). 

We see snapshots of Ben’s life behind the scenes with his mother. It seems like his mother is quite abusive towards him. At one point he snaps, and while his mother is boiling a pot of water, we see him use his powers to pour the boiling pot of water onto his mum and smash the pot over her head. She slowly dies on the kitchen floor while he just sort of looks on. Later we see moments of regret in Ben but overall, he appears to be quite nonchalant about the whole ordeal. 

Tension is obviously building, and Ben is becoming obviously progressively more dangerous. We see him break the leg of another child, and later take over the body of an adult man to murder another young boy from the block. Aisha and Anna tell Ida that they have to stop Ben, that he is out of control and they want her help but Ida refuses. Before they can, Ben takes over the body of Aisha’s mother and forces her to violently stab Aisha to death. Without Aisha, Anna goes back to being non-verbal. In her frustration and concern now that Aisha/Anna can no longer protect them, and worrying that Ben will be coming for them, Ida decides that she’s going to take matters into her own hands and lures Ben to an overpass where she pushes him off the side. She is seen by an adult and bolts. Ben, unhurt, then pursues her and in the process Ida is hit by a car and breaks her leg. 

The latter section of the film is the aftermath. Ida returns from hospital but the threat of Ben is still very real. Summer rolls over, and families have returned from their holidays by this point so the streets are bubbling with families. Anna leaves the flat to finally confront Ben, and Ida pursues with her cast and crutches (before eventually tearing at it to allow her to get to her sister). She finds Anna by the bank of the small lake in the playground area and holds Anna’s hand in a sort of united front against Ben (the proximity to the lake is reminiscent of the early scene, where Ida first sees Ben). There is a silent and tense stare-down and you can see ripples forming on the surface of the water. Ben then stumbles backwards to this swing set, looking wildly around the block; it appears that other children have abilities too and they are closely watching Ben. There is a crescendo of sound until finally Ben slumps in the seat of a swing, presumably murdered by Anna and co. And then everyone goes back to their normal activities and the camera pans away. 

So, I think the first thing to acknowledge is that there is something problematic about this film, in that the autistic character, Anna, was actually played by a neuro-typical (not autistic) actress. This comes up so much in film. I do think she acted fantastically and this is not a gripe at the actress at all, but the disabled community often call for disabled characters to be played by disabled actors. The reason for this is non-disabled actors often act those characters in over-the-top ways that can be very harmful to disabled people. Disabled actors are also more likely to reflect autistic traits in a way where it will be treated with respect, and not make a caricature out of autistic/disabled people.. Not to mention that representation is so important. There are plenty roles of neuro-typical, able-bodied characters out there… That’s not to say that a non-disabled person can’t treat a role like this with respect, and to be fair to Alva Brynsmo Ramstad she honestly played this character so so well, but I do think that it’s important to acknowledge this and advocate for authentic representation. 

Really loved that Aisha’s character was played by Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim, which is a young actess with vitiligo, a condition which is not really represented in film.

The film was held up basically by four children, ranging from like 8 years old to <16. I think often when you see child actors in film, they overact in a way that doesn’t seem believable but with this film, I was so taken by these kids. They act with a certain gravitas that only comes with much older actors, yet they were totally believable and really held my attention in a way that I would not have expected from child actors. So that just goes to show how capable these actors and actresses were. 

I really liked that there were adults in this film but it was almost like they were absent, you know? I think that was done intentionally to put real focus on these children, and that if the adults would have taken more of a front stage approach, the dynamic would have shifted somewhat. Like you would have automatically seen them in more of a Parent-Child dynamic which would have taken away the strength and self reliance of those characters. There definitely were moments of that… like where Ida and her mother embrace close to the end of the film… Thinking about it, I think that’s probably how they did that. There were very few scenes in the film where adults and children had physical closeness, like you would expect in a Parent-Child dynamic, so I think that lended itself to this approach to make the children the focal point. Most of the times where the adults came into contact with the kids, it was shrouded in tragedy (until the summer families returned and then there were lots of kiddos and parents and something shifted in that part of the film). The adults weren’t totally gone, and you got to see a little bit of their own worries in that world, but they definitely took a back seat to the kiddos. 

I guess another criticism I would have of this film is their choice of the actor who plays Ben being the baddie. Like yes, he is a boy and it’s great that they’re putting a focus firstly on girls and disabled characters as the heroines in this film, but he is a Person of Colour… AND not only that but he is a darker skin toned POC, as with his mother who was physically abusive to his character. Aisha was also a POC but had lighter skin. Her mother had darker skin but also inevitably murders Aisha. Now you may not understand why that’s a problem, but from what I understand, People of Colour routinely either don’t see themselves in film or when they do see themselves they are the aggressors, or the terrorists, or a monster, something or someone to be frightened about, or a caricature of person. So their choices of who played what, and what they ended up doing and how they were portrayed as the story unfolded didn’t sit all that well with me, despite thinking that the actors in those roles were damn good at their job. 

I like that you never really know why these children have these powers and the characters approach it in a way that’s just so very childlike. I guess I’m used to Marvel or DC films where someone discovers they have a new power, then they do a montage where they are learning about their power and showing it off to people or trying to hide it. However in this film, it’s approached in such a matter-of-fact sort of way where the origin isn’t a focus. It’s just instantly accepted that there is something about this place that means some children have special abilities. It’s a very refreshing approach. 

I think it is so important that Anna is the one who ends up being the saviour in this film, with her being a disabled character, and I like that even though early on it seems like Anna can only really take on Ben with Aisha’s help, later it turns out she had strength all along and that she didn’t need Aisha at all to defeat Ben. Although I wonder if the onlookers had any part to play. I suspect not because you see those ripples coming off of Anna and hitting the lake so I think that power is genuinely being generated just by her. 

And I wonder what happened in the aftermath, like what happened when they discovered Ben’s mother’s body? And why did did the adults have zero awareness that the kiddos in this block were a little unusual and why that might be and why all these weird tragedies were spontaneously happening at the same time? So mysterious. 

So overall, there’s a lot to think about with this film. I was say it was likely my favourite film of the festival and it blew me away. Acted well. Great concept. Well written. Sometimes I thought maybe it might be too slow because it was very Nordic, in that slow paced, quiet sort of way, but I think on balance none of that took anything away from the film. It actually allowed it to breathe and I felt like I was so invested in the film in those moments of stillness. Like I said in another blog, I was really stoked to see that this film is now streaming, and I wish the film the greatest success.

Tagged : / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

12 months of Kai [2021] [sci-fi-london.com]

“Begin setup…”


Sci Fi London 2021 is over! Just catching up now on posting about the last two feature films I saw. I had such a great time and I thank all of the writers, directors, actors, as well as Louis, Marta and the Sci Fi London crew for putting on such a great festival. The standard of films was so great and it was lovely to be able to see everyone in person.

Sci Fi London will return next year to its usual time of year (late spring/early summer). Look out there for more.

Directed by Matsumi Kameyama, 12 months of Kai is the story of the relationship between a human and an android. Kyoka, played by Ayaka Kawaguchi, lives in Tokyo and meets with her friends for coffee. It’s clear from the start that there is pressure on them all to be with someone, as they talk about potential boyfriends and husbands, even stopping to make eyes at the coffee shop dude which was a pretty humorous moment. Kyoka lives alone and it seems like her work is pretty much her life, so it’s not all that surprising when she decides to purchase/rent a ‘Personal Care Humanoid’ to take care of her needs. The humanoid, played by Kosei Kudo, arrives and is every bit as flawless and gorgeous as you can imagine. Kyoka begins setup and names the humanoid Kai. Meanwhile, she continues to date and her owning a PCH is met with horror from both her prospective partners and her friends who think Kyoka is wasting her time being with someone who cannot father her a child. Kyoka seems to genuinely care for Kai and Kai struggles with concepts of the future but otherwise seems pretty content. There are some uncomfortable moments when Kyoka’s mother comes to see her and later tells her she has cancer – which we find out later is a lie. Soon, we discover that Kai is pregnant …DUN DUN DUHHHHHHH and she informs her friends and family who are shocked and dismayed and encourage her to have an abortion. She decides to keep the baby and informs the corporation who created Kai which reveals to us that this has all been an experimental plot and that Kai is working exactly the way he was programmed to behave. Kyoka has the baby, which ends up looking Borg-esque. Kyoka is obviously super depressed and disgusted by herself and this baby, and tries to destroy it but is stopped by Kai. The corporation then moves in and drugs her and takes the baby from her. She awakes in this moodily lit room watched by a humanoid who asks her to set it up, to which she says “Begin setup” and the whole process starts all over again.

Oooooh, thinking about that ending gives me chills.

Enjoyed this one. Despite the low budget, the lighting in some scenes made the film glorious.

I could really feel the pressures on Kai in this one. It was like everyone from all angles was up in her bizness, telling her to find a REAL MAN but Kyoka seemed quite content with Kai. Her needs were pretty basic. She wasn’t looking for a kid. She was pretty content talking to Kai and could dismiss questions she didn’t want to talk about… which is pretty easy living if you think about it. How many relationships have you been in where there was something you didn’t want to talk about for whatever reason and your partner just let it go? It doesn’t really happen, at least not in my experience so I guess that’s why the relationship seemed so peaceful… haha.. but obviously nothing lasts forever. Kyoka found herself in unchartered territories where she didn’t know what to do. Her friends were split between being astonished and telling her to get rid of this baby. Her mother was complete trash. She lied about having cancer, or at least Kai said that she had. You could potentially read into that and suspect Kai is trying to pull Kyoka away from her support mechanisms and the loves in her life as it is Kai who tells her that her mother lied to her, but I couldn’t be sure. Whatever Kai’s intention, he lets it go and you never hear about it again. It probably contributes to Kyoka feeling like she really had no one to turn to by the end of the film, which contributes to her resigning herself to starting the whole process again. It really had me asking WHAT IS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND KYOKA?! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT TO YOURSELF AGAINNNNN?!?!?!

One cool thing I noticed about the film, was that Kai’s scenes were filmed with the actor keeping his eyelids open the whole time… which I would not have even clocked had I not heard this cool factoid about the film ‘Scott Pilgrim v the world’ the same weekend, in that the actors in their scenes were instructed to not blink while on camera, and that was to mirror the comic in which obviously none of the characters blink on the panels. The effect that had on the Scott Pilgrim film, and on this particular film is that there is a strange intensity about the character. It’s almost like that sensation the ‘uncanny valley’ where you see a human-like animation and it’s so close to real life but your brain is looking at the resemblance and trying to tear it apart.

Anyway, there’s not really much to say about this film so I’ll leave it there, but it was a strange but enjoyable concept. Well acted. The baby was particularly gruesome which shocked a lot of the people watching including myself, which I enjoyed! Really appreciate that the director came all the way from Japan to talk about the film as well and answer my question about the blinking(!) and it seemed like the writing of the concept was a very collaborative process which I love to hear.

Tagged : / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

Repeat [2021] [sci-fi-london.com]

“Where do we go when we die”


Directed by Grant Archer and Richard Miller, this film ponders the almighty question; What happens after we die?

I wasn’t originally planning on seeing this film but I was unfortunately ill and couldn’t see Exposure36 so I decided to come out to this one to get my sciencey fill!

So… Repeat!! In this film, scientist Ryan Moore played by Tom England, works for the research department at a university. While attempting to create tech that can interpret thoughts he stumbles across an altogether different invention which he believes allows him to reach people BEYOND THE VEILLLLL. We see him testing this tech on various people who had recently lost their loved ones. The tech itself looks like a selfie light wrapped in copper wire, connected to an old computer with the DNA slot looking like a CD drive, which I really love by the way. It’s pretty well known by pals that I happen to really enjoy sci-fi where the Tech looks like it is made out of vacuum parts so I enjoy tech that looks very DIY. Anyways. I digress. We soon learn that Ryan and his wife Emily, played by Charlotte Ritchie, have also lost someone dear to them, their young daughter Sam. It’s unclear what happened and the story leads us to believe that she was abducted by a hooded man after school. The loss has clearly put a massive strain on the relationship, and various attempts to tackle their problems head on are pushed under the mat.

Ryan becomes increasingly more intense and obsessed as the police investigation runs dry. With no leads, he takes it upon himself to investigate teachers and friends and ends up alienating them all forcing him into an even bigger introspective spiral. He hopes to make contact with Rebecca but each attempt fails. One day he finds that Emily has swabbed her DNA with the intent to use the machine to try to make contact (she stops short of actually doing so). Ryan continues and manages to make contact discovering that his child is indeed dead. Troubled by this discovery and after he temporarily manages to manifest her using the machine, he boosts the machine and finds himself transported to the day Sam disappeared. He tries to prevent her from being taken when she suddenly disappears and we learn **MASSIVE SPOILER** that the machine does not talk to the dead but to people sleeping and inadvertently kills those it makes contact with. The weight of this discovery is palpable. Ryan attempts to send a message to his computer in the past only for that message to start the loop all over again!

I enjoyed this one. The film had plenty red herrings baked into the story that made you think you were being taken in various directions only to end up somewhere completely different. It was really interesting being able to attend the Q&A because the director/writer spoke of just that in the writing process; that he had intended for the film to be a lighthearted ghostbusters-esque jaunt, but creativity had a different path in mind for him. Anyways, it would have been all too easy for the cause of Sam’s disappearance to have been the ominous hooded figure. Also, I really enjoyed the fact that we all thought we were watching a film about life after death and instead we were slapped in the face with IT WAS A TIME TRAVEL FILM ALL ALONGGGGGGG **SLAP SLAP SLAP**

The science/tech side of things felt like the right tone. You know, how scientists create new inventions in their basements… It’s murky and thrown together and a complete mess, all the while the scientist is telling you “IT’S COMPLETELY SAFE” when you know they have no idea what they’re doing. There were some laughable moments like that in this film where Ryan is asking these people, and by extension those of us watching the film, to trust him and for the most part we do. And then we learn that we really shouldn’t trust him. That he is stabbing in the dark, that this invention of his is actually killing him.. that his morality is totally called into question and fails, that he is stealing an unknown, radioactive chemical from the same university who are funding and trusting him in order to power this invention of his… and then there’s the moment where he intensely interrogates a teenage girl – the friend of his daughter – and when she doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear he starts to manhandle her and shouts at her I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE. I had to laugh at that point. Like no wonder she’s running from you, dude. Take it down a fricking notch! At no point does he recognise just how lost he is and that his attitude and this invention of his is hurting people. Even at the very end, his instinct is to use the machine to better this situation he has found himself in, the irony being that if he had taken a moment to really criticise himself, he would have realised that he is the cause of all his and his family’s pain. I was really hoping that Ryan would try to make contact with his past self and in doing so, would kill himself and save his and so many other’s lives, or to destroy the machine thus doing the same, but then it would not have looped so cleverly. So I’m willing to accept the discomfort and annoyance I feel towards the choices Ryan has ultimately made for a cool ending. Ryan really, truly believes that his invention could be used for good and can’t help himself; that was his undoing ultimately because it totally screwed him. I guess in hindsight, he never could help himself, and never will!

There’s a sub-storyline in there about who the real father of Sam is, but even though it’s this shocking elephant in the room that is hinted when Emily uses the DNA swab and then doesn’t get mentioned until much later, it’s not really important to the plot. To him, Ryan is Sam’s father and nothing will change that (which I think is really sweet). And again, it’s just a red herring to confuse the viewer anyways.

So all in all, liked the plot and the twisty turns. Interesting mish-mash of sci fi films (mixing life after death with time travel) and I think the causality was smartly done. Found it hard to suspend my disbelief looking at the invention, but I kinda loved that I knew what the component parts were. Enjoyable performances and some familiar faces. Enjoyed watching this one.

Tagged : / / / / / / / / / / / / / / / /

Warning [2021] [opening night @ sci-fi-london.com]

“Can you really put a value on human life?”


Hurray Sci Fi London 2021 is here! A week long of curated short and feature length films, hosted by Sci-Fi-London.com at Stratford Picturehouse in London! I was honoured to have been invited by Louis, Marta and the team to opening night and I’m looking forward to checking out what else the week unfolds! Come watchalong with me. I’ll be seeing the following so come say hi:

Really wish I could see more but unfortunately I can’t this time. I’m gonna try and catch some of the shorts. Louis – the founder of the festival – recommended ‘The Scent of a Forest’ (directed by Servaes Dewispelaere) which the team voted as their fave short of this year’s lot so if nothing else, be sure to check that out and let me know what you think!

So, back to WARNING!

Warning, directed by Agata Alexander, starts out from the onset with a mechanic astronaut who is set on a personal path of disaster when the tech he has been sent to fix explodes, hurtling him into nothingness. He is given days to live.

Meanwhile on earth we touch on the stories, humanity and inhumanity of current life on earth. We see a woman who is released from the routine of her Alexa-esque connection to God 2.0 when one day it malfunctions and she is forced to continue her spiritual journey alone. There’s a teenage girl who hopes to make a bunch of money for a better life by allowing a random stranger to invade her consciousness for just a weekend which ends up taking a very dark turn. There’s a seemingly young couple meeting the fam for the first time, and we soon discover that the man in the couple is immortal while she is not. The mother does not approve. There’s the story of an elderly robot who cannot be sold, and we see a sliver of humanity in it as it dances with another robot/android, shrouded behind a curtain. There’s the guy who just can’t let the past stay in the past, much to the horror of his ex girlfriend. And a small child, looking to the sky, wishing her father home.

I thought it was a wonderful start to the festival. I wondered about the title of the film.. warning. Could the astronaut have warned people of what was to come? It felt like he could not have, which makes it all the more tragic. That he had to sit and watch it unfold. I imagined his death as he ran out of oxygen all alone in the vastness of space wondering if he could have done something. Was it our choices that should have served as a warning? That we were on a path of destruction? No. It appeared inevitable. That regardless of the choices the characters would have made, they were bound by the exact same fate. It amused me at least that the immortal elite were seemingly also bound by this and I thought to myself, they cannot buy themselves out of this quandary.

I noticed these images throughout of this sort of sterile, sanctioned life… Beautiful flowers covered with bugs living in little sealed greenhouses or cages in peoples home, almost like little reminders of life among perfect homes with perfect wallpaper of plants.

Each mini story could honestly have been a movie in itself and I think it was in the section on mortality where something was said that resonated for me in this film. That immortality makes life less precious and I think in some way that is true of this film. Sure. Each section could have been entire films, but it was the miniature nature of these different stories that ended up making this film so precious. All these small hints of life woven into an untidy, tragic story about the end of days. Of love and loss. Of a desire to connect in a modern time.

I think the main takeaway I had and perhaps this was the purpose of the film, is that it is itself a warning. How would you act? How would you wish to spend your last days on earth if you had a warning? With greed? Living in the past? With hope? With a loved one? Alone? Helpless? Would you have made different choices? What would make your life more meaningful?

So all in all, I thought this film was poetic. It managed to somehow pull off chaotic and tidy all at once. There were some pretty famous actors in the mix which was quite surprising to see. Overall enjoyed it and loved that the concept had me thinking for hours after I left the cinema. Would recommend checking it out!

Tagged : / / / / / / / / / / / /