… or whatever the Swedish use for “The horror, the horror”.
I missed Let the Right One In at the cinema, but I made sure to catch up with this well-received Swedish horror movie (that old chestnut!) as soon as possible. And I’m glad I did. It’s one of the most poignant, disturbing films I’ve seen in a long time.
In many ways Let the Right One In felt familiar: the look of the film – the faces, the clothes, the haircuts – was that of an urban Astrid Lindgren without the nostalgia. Critics with a thing for Freudian theory could probably have a field day talking about heimlich and the uncanny and the like; for the purpose of this blog, suffice it to say that Tomas Alfredson’s movie uses the familiarity and banality of the setting to great effect.
And it’s always great to see a film where the main characters are kids that are both well written and well acted, something that only a handful of directors can do. (Danny Boyle comes to mind.) The two protagonists, Oscar and Eli, are two of the most credible children I’ve seen in a movie, which is saying something considering that one of them is a vampire. Let the Right One In especially gets one thing right: its young protagonists are not idealised. Oscar’s reaction to being bullied viciously is a set of violent revenge fantasies not at all uncommon to boys of his age; I know that at times I was one good bullying away from going all Travis Bickle on some of the kids at my elementary school. Eli, the trickier character of the two because there’s no real template (there aren’t too many eleven-year-old-but-they’ve-been-eleven-for-a-long-time vampire girls-who-might-actually-be-castrated-boys that could have acted as consultants for this film), but the writing, the direction and the acting make her work. She’s both utterly believable as a girl (and it’s clear why someone like Eli would fall for her, possibly his first real love) and immensely unsettling as a vampire.
What I appreciate most about the film is how bravely it maintains its ambiguity. The relationship between Oscar and Eli is touching, and the feelings between them seem genuine, but there are enough hints suggesting that the old man Hakan that Eli travels with was once an Oscar. How much of Eli’s actions is actual love, and how much is her manipulating the boy into becoming what she needs him to become? In fact, with her forever stuck at eleven, how much of their continued fate together is inevitable, as long as they stay together? There are hints of Interview with a Vampire‘s Claudia in this thematic strand, but Let the Right One In arguably does something deeper, more poignant with it.
While we’re on the subject of horror: after League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910, I decided to give in to my Alan Moore cravings and got myself the first three volumes of his run of Swamp Thing. It’s fascinating to read these, because you can pick out themes and motifs that Moore later used, usually to better effect. At the same time, while Moore’s Swamp Thing (both the comic and the character) are complex, with richly metaphysical overtones, I have similar problems with it as I have with much of the first volume of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Both take the old staple of the horror comic and infuse it with mythology, deeper characterisation than you’d expect from the genre, and a degree of relevance, moving away from pure escapism, but they’re still both caught in the confines of the genre. The end result, at least for me, is a comic that tries to be more than just horror but just about not succeeding.
Still, it’s bound to be better than Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing movie. When all a film has going for it is Adrienne Barbeau’s breasts, well, then…