‘Firestarter’, ‘The Innocents’ Have Creepy Horror Kids That Feel Real
Children can be cruel to animals, classmates, and especially siblings. Add superpowers to this mix and you have the makings of an effective horror movie.
Creepy kids with extraordinary abilities — or just a killer disposition — have been a staple of Hollywood chillers dating back to the 1950s with “The Bad Seed” and spanning the decades in films like “Children of the Damned” and “The Omen.” “. In fact, two were released this Friday: a new version of Stephen King’s “Firestarter” (in theaters and on Peacock), about an 11-year-old girl who can create deadly flames from her mind, and the Nordic thriller ” The Innocents (in theaters and on demand) which focuses on children in an apartment complex who discover both wonder and brutality within their inexplicable abilities.
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But movies with scary kids resonate differently in an age of social media, a global pandemic, and images of war and conflict at your fingertips or a browser window.
“A lot of the problems that we went through as a society were passed on to them because they weren’t allowed to live a certain way,” says Eskil Vogt, writer/director of recently nominated ‘Innocents’ at the Oscars. for the original screenplay of “The Worst Person in the World”. “They live above their parents, are watched all the time, and haven’t had that safe space of being away from their parents and figuring things out and making mistakes.”
“The Innocents” was inspired by Vogt becoming a father and feeling curious about childhood again, but with its main characters – including a 9-year-old daughter (Rakel Lenora Fløttum), her autistic older sister (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) and a boy neighbor (Sam Ashraf) who begins to use his telekinetic powers in dark ways – the filmmaker also sought to explore young people forming their own moral compass with these gifts.
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“Our first set of values and our morals come to us from our parents telling us, ‘Don’t do that,’ or ‘It’s wrong to do that,’” Vogt says. “Part of growing up and being a kid is doing things your mom said you shouldn’t do and seeing what that feels like.”
Weighing the consequences of deadly actions is something ‘Firestarter’ director Keith Thomas also wanted to focus on with his film: Young Charlie (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) likes to use his growing fire abilities, albeit after they led to an accident that she regrets, her father (Zac Efron) uses the situation as a chance for her to understand that she must also take responsibility for it.
“The child doesn’t have some kind of innate sense of direction as to how they live their life, let alone how you deal with power like this,” Thomas says. “It was really interesting to explore the different ways that parents might try to guide a child like this and make sense of what they’re doing and leave them better off than they were when they arrived.”
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Both directors wanted to present a youthful perspective in their films, as opposed to past horror films which saw these scary children from the point of view of adults. In older blockbusters like “The Omen” and “The Exorcist,” demonic or possessed youth “tend to embody the sins/evil of their elders rather than their own,” says Dawn Keetley, an English teacher and film school at Lehigh University and co-founder of HorrorHomeroom.com. For example, the evil child in “Rosemary’s Baby” is “quite directly the result of the blind professional ambition of Rosemary’s husband”.
However, ever since “The Ring” became a hit in 2002, “scary kids are ‘evil’ in their own right and in a way that’s grounded in realism, not the supernatural,” Keetley says.
Children today are “sort of unknowable” to those of Gen X and up, says Thomas. “Their childhood is so removed from childhood before. With technology and social media, they live a very different, much more interconnected life which I think seems somewhat alien and hard to identify with, obviously with all the memes and all the slogans. It’s like talking to a wisecracker from the 1940s. They don’t make sense.
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“I think it’s a big fear: how do you identify with these people? Gen Z kids are so far removed from our experience that it’s frightening. What’s the world gonna become with these guys running it? »
And while adults can always be pissed off by dangerous children with out-of-control abilities and questionable moral codes, Thomas has found his children – ages 12, 15 and 18 – and their friends see a sense of empowerment in the “joy of destruction” aspect. of “Firestarter”.
“As children, probably even as adults, we all dreamed of what we would do if we had powers,” he says. “There’s an attraction to breaking the rules and getting angry and letting that anger show itself physically.”
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