Friday, March 13, 2009

Be careful who you invite

D. Thomas Alfredson
Magnolia Pictures

This subdued, quiet and haunting little vampire drama from Sweden has managed to cause quite a stir in the horror movie circles. Which is surprising considering how dumbed down the modern horror movie has become with all the remakes and exercises in extreme gore. The very fact that something this reliant on mood, atmosphere and tension would get noticed at all is no mean feat. Much less get international attention (unfortunately that means it is on the remake block for 2010, but I somehow think that will not come to pass).

The story deals with a 12 year old boy named Oskar who lives in Blackeberg, Sweden. He is not unlike a lot of boys his age, quite, reserved, backward, too smart for his own age. And because of all of this is, he is picked on by the school yard bully and his group of thugs. When we first meet Oskar he is alone in his room brandishing a haunting knife fantasising about how he will get his revenge and humiliate his tormentors. He sees his new neighbors moving in outside his window. A dark haired young girl about his age and presumably her father. It is not long before this lonely boy has met the girl who at first doesn't want to be friends with him. Her name is Eli and she's quite peculiar, not wearing a coat or gloves while outside, saying she has forgotten how to be cold. Eventually they bond over a rubic's cube because she seems to love puzzles and cautiously become friends.

Meanwhile her guardian, the man living in the house is murdering people. He kidnaps a teenager and butchers him in the woods, draining his blood into a large bottle but is almost caught when an inquisitive dog spots him and the owners are not far behind. Turns out he was gathering the blood for Eli and though it is not really spoken, it is made clear that she is a vampire.

But Oskar not a complete innocent either. He keeps a scrapbook of newspaper clippings of stories dealing with murders. It seems to be one of the few things that bring him joy in his life. He is far too obsessed with the idea of revenge and his hunting knife. Eli sees this in him and urges him to fight back with the bullies at school, to not let them humiliate him any longer. She also tells him that if he fights back and they progress further that she will be there to help him.

From here the movie becomes rather complicated with various murderous attacks being carried out to keep Eli alive. While these are very important to the plot construction of the film, the meat of the story is the blossoming relationship between the two youngsters. This is a story of two very lost souls who through the most obscene odds find each other. It is clear the Oskar is not at home in his own skin no matter who he is with, save maybe his Father from whom his Mother is separated. BUt even there tension arrives from a male friend (whom I got the feeling was more than just a friend to his Father) that upsets that balance. Eli is a true lost soul, the only person she has in life is her keeper, whom clearly she had a relationship with at one point but he has grown old and she has not. Once he has passed on she is left alone to fend for herself. So it becomes her and Oskar against the world.

The films most touching (and in western eyes maybe most troubling) moment comes after Eli has lost her Keeper/Father figure. She shows up at Oskar's window in the middle of the night. She makes it clear that she has to be invited in (remember vampire's cannot enter anywhere they are not invited). Once inside she strips down and climbs into bed with the sleepy boy cuddling up behind him. They talk about how she is so physically cold and does he think that is weird. He asks her to go steady with him, but she doesn't understand the term. So he explains to be his girlfriend, but she wants things to stay the same between them, she tell shim she is not a girl, but Oskar doesn't care. She agrees and they hold hands and fall asleep together. The seen is bittersweet because what lonely young boy hasn't dreamed of the girl whom he trusted/loved the most showing up at his window to hold him into the night? But it is creepy too because we know what she is and what she is capable of, though she clearly seems to not have any intentions of hurting Oskar. Then there is the unspoken child sexuality issue. We never see any nudity and there is no sex going on, but the fact that it is two kids cuddled together in bed, one of them completely nude, that makes people uncomfortable. Add to that the fact Eli's character is probably much, much older mentally and it becomes very weird indeed.

The movie moves into full blown horror territory in the last third or so with some other characters becoming vampires, a little bit more bloodshed and a revenge fueled finale that I'm not entirely sure I liked or not. This is a movie that worked best in the quiet moments between the kids as they try to figure out the danger between them, the new found feelings, the subtle eroticism an all that comes with it. How they try to reconcile that both of them have the capability to commit murder, only one of them has to do it to survive.

Let The Right One In is a strange little film, full of more questions than answers. Beautifully shot, lit and acted. For those looking for something different, this should hit the spot.

There is a shot in the movie that I'm not quite sure I understood. When Oskar spots Eli undressing he sees her nude pubic area and running across it is a large scar. Throughout the movie she keeps telling him she is "not a Girl" but I took that to mean she is a vampire. But after this shot I wonder if there is more to it than that? Anyone else got some clues or info?



    Apparently in the book, Eli has been castrated, hence her multiple references to not being a girl.

    Great review, Andy. I also picked up on the relationship between Eli and her former "keeper". You also confirmed my feelings about Oskar's father and his "friend".

  2. Yeah I read up and found that out too. I guess they shot some scenes dealing with it that didn't make the final movie. that detail really makes the relationship between Eli and here guardian even weirder and more suspect doesn't it?

  3. Well, it makes it weird if one thinks her guardian was involved with the castration. We never find out how old she really is, therefore she could have been castrated before this current guardian.

    I like to think she developed a relationship with the old man guardian in the same way she was developing one with Oskar. They probably met when he was young and they developed a companionship that lasted until his death. He seemed fiercely loyal and offered himself freely to her in the end. I also sensed some jealously on his part towards Oskar. At one point he asks Eli not to see Oskar that night. I believe it was the night he disfigured himself. I think he knew Eli was grooming Oskar as his replacement.

    I could tell by the way some people were squirming in their seats, they were clearly uncomfortable with the bed scene you mentioned, although I didn't view that scene as anything sexual. I thought Oskar's developing relationship with Eli was mostly mental and emotional. They were both outsiders that needed companionship. Eli needed someone to take her guardian's place and Oskar needed someone as well, especially after losing his close relationship with his father to his father's new companion. It's clear that Oskar's mother is not involved much with him, at least not on the level he needs.