Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Let the Right One In
Let the Right One In is the story of Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson). Oskar is a timid twelve year-old boy whose mother works late and father lives in another town. He doesn't have any friends and is mercilessly bullied at school. The only satisfaction he seems to get is by role playing revenge scenarios where he stabs his bullies; he only does this outside, at night, with trees taking the place of his bullies. Maybe he'll grow up to be a lumberjack; there's a silver lining to every depressing childhood, you know. Oskar's world changes when he meets Eli, a girl who moved into the apartment next door. Eli is different. She doesn't go to school, she smells funny, and she seems blissfully unaware of weather and culture. Despite her oddness, Eli clearly has a strong personality and Oskar is drawn to her. The two begin an awkward friendship; Oskar starts to stick up for himself and Eli tries to be less obviously peculiar. In many ways, this is a love story between these two lonely twelve year-olds.
Did I mention that Eli is a vampire? Yeah...good luck with love, Oskar. Watch out for hickies.
That's all I think I want to cover of the plot. This is a movie made of small moments that are best experienced firsthand. Let the Right One In feels different than most vampire movies because it is in fact different; it is the Swedish film adaptation of the novel with the same name. The foreign actors and setting alone make this unique, but the most unusual aspect of the film is that it has child actors in almost every single scene. Most of the time, that's a bad indicator for acting quality. I don't know if it's the unusual style of the film, the subtitles, or perhaps even a talented young cast, but I didn't mind watching kids in a vampire story for two hours. Leandersson, in particular, was very effective as the film's token monster. Perhaps the credit should go to director Tomas Alfredson for directing the children so well and still retaining a sense of dread in the film.
What really sets this movie apart from traditional vampire movies is the way it approaches horror. Instead of focusing on spectacle, like gory movies, or on cheap thrills, like slasher movies, Let the Right One In is very subtle. When I was done with the movie, I went through three distinct stages as I reflected on the film. Initially, I was unimpressed; I have read the book and I thought that cutting down the supporting cast, while understandable, took away from the depth of the story. Next, I recalled the silliness of Oskar's concerns when he learned Eli's secret; he was nervous, but not horrified. After a while, though, something about the film nagged at the back of my mind. Children are absolutely frightening at times; this film has the same sort of you-know-it-could-happen-like-this quality that Lord of the Flies has. Yes, Eli is a monster, but is she any worse than Oskar's bullies? At least she has a reason to attack or kill people. Using a vampire story to point out how horrible children can be, while a touch heavy-handed, is effective. It's strange, because you end up rooting for Eli and Oskar to find a way to make their impractical friendship work.
While light by vampire movie standards, this is a fairly bloody movie. There are some standard gore moments where Eli rips out the throat of her victims and, at one point, a guy even pours acid on his face. Most of the violence is shown off-screen, though; this is most obvious in the climactic scene, even though it is still a pretty cool moment. The most frightening scene in the whole film is also the bloodiest. Eli has to be granted permission to enter a room or home and, in a moment of childish stubbornness, Oskar refuses because he wants to see what happens. What follows is a fantastic visual in a pretty low-key movie.
As a whole, though, I felt that something was missing from the film. The direction was good, although the cinematography was merely competent. The acting was surprisingly good, but only Eli stood out as a character. The pacing of the movie fit a dramatic romance, but it felt out of step when things got monstrous. As a horror film, this was lacking the catharsis that most horror films provide, satisfied with sowing the seeds for a sense of disquiet. No aspect of the film was utterly satisfying; for every positive, I was able to immediately find a negative to balance it. As a film with a very low budget, I think Let the Right One In is an excellent example of trying to scare you with what is not shown. The pacing and inconsistent tone were just too much for me to overlook.