Saturday, December 6, 2008

Let the Right One In

Last Saturday, I had one of the worst night's sleep of my life. I had just seen Let the Right One In ("Lat den Rate Komme In") at Nashville's historic Belcourt theatre.

This Swedish film revolves around Oskar, a lonely 12-year-old boy living in a Stockholm tenement in 1982. He finds companionship when Eli, a strange girl his age, moves in next door. Soon, however, murders begin to occur in the area. The audience gets to see that the man living with Eli is committing them...but that she seems to be in charge. It isn't long before Oskar, like Bella Swan, figures out what his new friends really is.

As other reviews have pointed out, the action takes place in winter and mostly at night, either outside or under artificial light. This goes a long way toward setting the tone. While there are no weak performances here, Lina Leannderson's Eli is a fae and unsettling presend from the moment we meet her, when she executes a graceful drop jump from a jungle gym

As with most horror movies that are actually good, the true horror here is human nature. The bullying that Oskar stoically suffers is some of the worst that I've ever seen onscreen. There is believable and often moving tenderness between Eli and Oskar...such as the scene where she eats a chocolate to avoid hurting his feelings, and ends up retching shortly after. At the same time, this is juxtaposed with the cruelty she shows to others.

The story takes few liberties with vampire lore. These vampires have to be invited in and have to stay out of sunlight. (There is some ambiguity on how vampires are made.) There are a few cinematic innovations. Animals react strongly to vampires...very strongly. We never actually see any fangs, but we do see what happens if a vampire comes in without being invited. This is also not a movie that makes vampirism itself sexy. The murders committed for Eli are disgusting, and the victims are humanized. Her own attacks, too, are vicious--due to her age, she uses deception rather than seduction. You feel the horror of life with a monster.

Like Twilight, this movie deals with budding sexuality. It looks at an earlier stage, however, and never directly addresses the mechanics of adolescence. One dialog is a mirror of one that takes place in Twilight ("How old are you?"). There is one scene, where we see what vampires look like in pitch dark, that is creepier than anything in Twilight.

For vampire romance, I prefer stories like The Silver Kiss. The vampire moves on, in one way or another, because it's existence is unnatural, and it would not wish that on the one it loves. The human lover returns to normal life, both stronger and wiser for the experience.

This is not that movie.

Instead, at the end, we are left remembering the fate of Eli's human "father", and wondering Oskar's fate will be the same if he does not become a vampire. The looming question makes the tenderness that the children share, even in the last scene, all the more bittersweet.

I expected that Let the Right One In might be more frightening than Twilight. I did not expect it to be more romantic.

No comments: