Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Let The Right One In

This Swedish movie takes the vampire genre and twists it on its head so that instead of fearing the blood-sucking scourge you end up feeling sorry for her. The vampire in this movie is Eli, a dark Balkan-looking child who says she is 12 years old and is living in a soulless apartment complex outside Stockholm. She befriends Oskar, a lonely and bullied schoolboy who is the same age and who day dreams about violently attacking his tormentors.
Låt den rätte komma, the film’s original Swedish title is starkly shot – the cinematography reminded me of Kieslowski’s Dekalog, possibly because of the functional apartment block and the snow – and the child actors who play Eli and Oskar are superb, particularly Eli who combines innocence with twitching animal instincts when she is about to strike.
The film is true to the vampire genre in a number of aspects – Eli must be invited into Oskar’s house before she enters and she can not come out in daylight. One of her victims who survives is infected with vampire virus and craves blood but rather than succumbing allows herself to be exposed to daylight and spontaneously combusts.
Other vampire traits are ignored – there is no aversion to garlic, crucifixes, or at least they aren’t mentioned.
Eli’s vulnerability is exploited by the director and wins our sympathy even when we realise that the older man she lives with is a servitor who strings up victims and cuts their throats to bring her back blood. His failure means that she has to kill for herself, starting with a drunk staggering home from a bar and killing several times after that in some truly horrific set-pieces.
However, a scene with Eli’s childlike and innocent face smeared with the blood of her latest victim is a superb juxtaposition that numbs the horror of what she has to do to stay alive. She is not evil and did not choose to be a vampire, that is what she is. She urges Oskar to imagine what it must be like to be her and to quell his urge to kill his tormentors.
“I kill because I have to,” she tells him.
Apparently a Hollywood remake is already on the card and it will be interesting to see if it can sustain the cinematic lyricism and understated horror of its carefully paced Scandinavian original.

4 comments:

Fionnchú said...

My family and I just watched this Sunday night! Even my wife liked it. Certainly a fresh take on the teen angst genre, and I liked how the vampiric angle was integrated. I did wonder as I always do with such plots why the whole friggin' burg was not crawling with police and news cameras after, say, a few such grisly deaths. They happened as if in a vacuum, but this did play off the wintry isolation neatly, if rather unrealistically. After all, it is a vampire film! Seemed set up for a sequel-- what do you think?

Fionnchú said...

My son the cineaste urged me--after I told him of our nearly coincidental viewing-- to remind you of what he found out after the fact. Apparently the subtitled version on the DVD bowdlerizes the suggestive dialogue that can be heard on the dubbed one! More innuendo and explicit banter, I suppose. We started it with dubs, but my wife, who hates them, made us switch. I wonder if the experience of the film alters substantially if you've heard the dubbed version?

Tony Bailie said...

We saw it in the cinema and it was with subtitles, although I did think at one point at that not everthing was being translated, but I thought that this was simply small chit chat and background dialogue while the main characters were speaking. In terms of a sequel, Sinead and I wondered if it was Oskar's fate to grow old and become eventually become like the servitor in the first part of the film who went out to kill on behalf of Eli.

Phil said...

The oversimplified English subtitles belong to the US DVD/Blu-ray release - read into that how you will :P

The remake has been picked up by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves who has signed to write and direct it although understandably, the Swedish director isn't impressed as he (quite rightly) aserts that only bad films should be remade to improve on them. However, Reeves is going back to the book rather than rehashing the Swedish version so I'll hold off on judgement until I see it myself.

I'm glad to see it getting the attention it deserves although it isn't getting a widescale release - the bane of subtitled films...

As far as sequels go, I would imagine that if the US version is successful, a 2nd film wont be far behind but very doubtful of a Swedish sequel.

An enjoyable film overall and the best 'horror' film since The Descent.