Written and directed by Eskil Vogt – who scripted Thelma – this is a disturbing essay in the perennial theme of children or young adults developing paranormal abilities … evoking the X-Men, the Midwich Cuckoos, Carrie and Firestarter, Chronicle, Freaks and many a YA franchise, but told in a very different, particularly Scandinavian manner. The finale stages a battle of mental powers out of Scanners between children standing perfectly still and thinking hard while all around the bustle of a playground continues as kids and parents are as unaware of the titanic contest as the peasants getting on with life while Icarus falls into the sea in the Breughel painting.
Nine-year-old Ida (Rakel Lenora Flottum) and her slightly older autistic sister Anna (Alva Brynsmo Ramstad) are moved into a new flat in a tower block at the edge of a wood by their busy parents (Ellen Dorrit Petersen, who really is Flottum’s mother, and Morten Svartveit) and often left to their own devices – which means they wind up hanging out with the building’s other slight misfit kids – sulky loner Ben (Sam Ashraf), who has an experimentally cruel streak he takes out on a cat (trigger warning), and Aisha (Mina Yasmin Bremseth Asheim), a pre-teen with vitiligo. Ida, fed up enough with the extra attention required by her sister to play cruel pranks on her, isn’t immediately put off by Ben’s slow-burn sociopathy and is intrigued by his very minor telekinetic ability. Ida is double-jointed, but that’s not quite enough to put her in Reed Richards’ class, while the other three have a variety of abilities – telepathy, mind control, healing presence – that become stronger when they are closer together. The non-verbal Anna even begins to speak, haltingly – but things get more problematic as Ben, who has a troubled relationship with his single mother (Lisa Tonne), starts using his abilities to get revenge on those who have done him wrong … not caring at all about any collateral damage caused by, for instance, puppeteering an adult neighbour to bludgeon the block’s resident bullying kid.
Aisha, the little moral conscious of the group, is first to notice that this can only end in a confrontation, though Vogt makes things much more complicated than, for instance, the quite similar Chronicle as these mostly pre-teen kids aren’t yet set in their personalities. Ben can murder blithely, but howls with grief when he realises he’s lost his only friends, while Ida’s outsider-even-within-the-strange-gang position makes her an unusual protagonist – a lot of suspense comes from wondering whether the kid will do the right thing, and the fantastical element interestingly stresses the way children influence and amplify each other’s worst or best traits. It depicts its tower block and environs neutrally – this doesn’t seem that bad a place to live, and the differing reasons for parents not to be too omnipresent in their kids’ lives aren’t necessarily bad. Vogt kills the cat early on – signalling just how ruthless his plotting is going to be, and this does several disturbing things that probably wouldn’t get through the development process in any American movie.