Eskil Vogt Didn't Expect Such Drastic Reactions To The Innocents

When you're a horror fan, it can be hard to gauge what gentler crowds would consider to be "too far." Horror is a wide umbrella housing tons of subgenres, each with their own expectations; pushing those boundaries can — and does — cause visceral reactions in moviegoers.

The most recent recipient of this lesson is Norwegian filmmaker Eskil Vogt, director of the bad seed horror movie "The Innocents." The movie concerns a small group of Norwegian kids who discover they have supernatural gifts; not Miles Morales superpowers, but Carrie White superpowers. The movie made the festival rounds in 2021 with varying results: while the midnight movie masses at Austin's Fantastic Fest seek out killer kid movies like "Goodnight Mommy," the Cannes crowd spooks easily. Some, like "Crimes of the Future" director David Cronenberg, come to expect walkouts from their work. While Vogt considers his work tame compared to Cronenberg's, a tragic death scene is too much for some festival folks. He told The Witch:

"There's some scenes in the movie that people, even on the script stage, were like, 'Are you really going to do that?' Then I said, 'Yes, of course,' and then that was the limit. It wasn't like someone was going to put their foot down and say, 'You need to be more commercial, people don't want to see this.' Honestly, I don't think things were that radical. I watch a lot of horror movies, and really bad things happen in those films. So, I was kind of surprised when we first showed it in Cannes. There was one scene — you what I'm talking about. It involves some animal cruelty. Some people just walked out immediately when they understood where the scene was going."

Less violent than an episode of The Walking Dead

In Vogt's defense, the violence in "The Innocents" is applied with restraint, and the animal cruelty he refers to gets more of its shock from the sound of the crime than the sight of it. These aren't "Village of the Damned" kids; Ida (Rakel Lenora Flottum), her sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad), Ben (Sam Ashraf) and Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim) elicit the same brew of building dread as the distant, wicked kids of Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" — you're just waiting for these walking red flags to all to come to a head. 

Still, there were walkouts and Vogt said that the Cannes reactions left him more confused than upset:

"It was a movie theater, over a thousand seats, so five people walking out is not a catastrophe. But then we showed it in the Norwegian Film Festival in Norway and a woman... left the theater and couldn't take it anymore. She fainted and hit her head on something, was bleeding and had to be taken to an ambulance. People are so sensitive! I don't feel my movie is up there with the most violent horror movies at all, I was very conscious of the violence being very tactile. I get more of a kick watching someone slam their finger in a car door, because when I see that in a movie, my whole body reacts. When I see someone's head being shot and their head explodes, I feel nothing. I can laugh, it's splatter, it's fun, but it has nothing to do with my emotions."

There's still hope for the walkouts: Vogt adds that the woman who fainted spoke to him eight head stitches later, and said that she was curious about the film's ending, and sorry that she couldn't stay for it.