Let the Right One In (2008)

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Two GREAT 2008 films in a row? Just a month ago, I thought it would be impossible. Even with Vicky Christina Barcelona under my belt, the rest of the year seemed dismal. There were not many interesting Hollywood films on the horizon, and even among the few I was anticipating, several were moved to a 2009 release, or even were simply disappointing. It seems I was searching in the wrong places however, as film beyond the Atlantic have been extremely strong. Five films have stood out for me as being above the rest, only two of them American, and both are products of well seasoned directors (Allen and Demme), the former working in Spain, the latter on a visibly low budget.

The latest entry in the “great cinema” category of 2008 is the Swedish horror, Let the Right One In. I had unfortunately missed this at Montreal’s own Fantasia film festival, where several of my friends declared it one of the year’s more interesting films. They weren’t kidding, and the word of mouth must have got around, because it’s not everyday you see a full house (even on cheapo Tuesday) at the AMC Forum. The last time I remember being at a full house at the Forum (that wasn’t a pixar) was back in 2006, when I saw The New World, and by the end of the film, more than half the patrons had walked out! I think this was a case of misled audience than anything else though, I remember the trailers for the film playing up the war element, and ignoring Malick’s signature and sometimes difficult style. No one walked out of Let the Right One In though, there wasn’t even that uncomfortable restlessness that most films seem to insight in their audience; there was just quiet (except the one cell phone that went off).

Let the Right One in is one of the more compelling entries in the vampire mythos in a while, using the pretense of fantasy to explore relationships, morbidity, and aggression. The film is purposefully ambiguous and a slackened pace allows for more focus on the budding friendship between the protagonist and the young vampire who moves in next door. There intimacy is startling, in some ways off-putting because of their youth, and though their relationship remains chaste, there is an undeniable sexual frustration that seems to manifest itself through bloodshed. Both have a need for violence, one as a means of survival, the other out of desire for revenge. The bullying the protagonist suffers in a way, is what softens him for being understanding towards Eli. His desire for a friend and his quietness perfect for her, and his incredible anger, allows him to be all the more sympathetic to her situation. When, and if, he’s disgusted by her nature, it’s short lived. If anything, she opens her eyes to the true brutality of his desires; the reality of violence and death. It frightens him, but there is also a strange sense that his desires are justified. Eli seems to say at one point, that her murders are motivated only by need, and implies, somehow, without judging that his are not quite “right”. Though, she urges him to act back, a tooth for tooth, and promises that if that doesn’t stop them, she will help. At this point, he is completely unaware what she is truly capable of. Even though Eli is much older than she looks, she seems to hold the same naïve and innocent understanding of justice as Oskar. Making the eventual “settling of the score”, disturbing rather than vindicating.

The nature of the friendship between Oskar and Eli seems to be pushing towards a sort of taboo, using one character who is just on the brink of a sexual awakening, with another who, though “twelve”, has clearly been initiated or initiating sexual relationships. I don’t want to spoil a moment, but there is a particular scene, it’s even more of a shot, that is mysterious and ambiguous that opens more questions than it answers. I’ve discussed it with Polar Bear, who has kindly revealed the “meaning” ,at least in part , of this moment, but again, it serves only to open up an entirely new set of questions regarding sex and Eli’s past. The film is purposefully ambiguous and cryptic, and though many films fall into the traps of becoming too muddle and biting off more than they can chew, somehow this film succeeds at being simply piercing, for lack of a better word.

Though the film works less for traditional scares and suspense, there is enough disturbing and unexpected material to make the audience jump. Most are, as I mentioned earlier, because of a sort of twisted innocence and it’s inevitable cruelty. The violence and the gore is often painful, though there is often a lack of empathy for the victims. We are hit by the terror of their death, but there is little concern for their body, or inevitable death. It’s moments like when Oskar is beaten with a switch, or Eli “bleeds” that are the most painful emotionally and viscerally. Oskar’s obsession with murder and violence, seems to me, to be a reflection on his alienation and loneliness. Perhaps I’m drawing parallels that are not there, but it makes me think of the unfortunate rise in school shootings in Scandinavian countries in the past few years. I don’t think there is an attempt to rationalize or point fingers, but reveals an uncomfortable malaise in youth, and a detached adult populace who is unaware and ignorant of the lives of their children. They fail to see what is right in front of them, unable to discern the budding violence and aggression, blind to bullying and unable to tell truth from lie. This disconnect seems to make the bond Eli and Oskar have seem even stronger.

Winding down my thoughts, I’m partial to winter as the setting for horror or films exploring issues of intimacy and human “coldness”. It’s probably why Black Christmas is my favorite horror, and it certainly works in this film’s favour. It’s a film that gets better the more I think about it, and leaves me aching to see it again. Instead of dishing out the cash to see Twilight, see this instead!

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*Thanks to Jedimoonshine on Rottentomatoes who I pilfered these beautiful screens from.

7 responses to “Let the Right One In (2008)

  1. Man, I’m totally in the pixel hole. We’re in an economic crisis Jedi!

    At least I gave you credit :p I don’t usually extend that nicety. Yours are so nice though, I’d feel bad taking any sort of credit for them.

  2. the Swedes get this semi-masterpiece, and we poor saps in North America can only sit back and watch as that shit Twilight makes $70 million. Disgusting.

    This really is a great film. Enough horror elements to keep those types interested (the subdued portrayal of Eli’s attacks, the CGI cats going apeshit on vampire lady ( 😆 ) )…but that’s not the point. It all boils down to a story of adolescent friendship that’s not quite mature yet to evolve into full-on romance. I love how vampirism is just a disease and not some supernatural plot device.

  3. I loved this film. It really is an astonishing piece of work. Excellet write-up.

    Incidentally, I happened to walk past Barbara Steele on the street over the weekend and you were one of the people who immediately came to mind.

  4. Simon: The CGI cats were the only misstep in the film, and yet it really wasn’t THAT bad. Unfortunately, it stands out to me as a scene that could have been eliminated entirely. Though, it seems with most of the vampire related “exposition”, there is a little bit of tongue and cheek humour. It definetely takes a backseat to the relationship between Eli and Oskar.

    Mr Peel: Barbara STeele? I’m incredibly jealous, we get some celebrities in Montreal, but not enough that I see any regularly who don’t play hockey.

  5. Best modern day vampire film I’ve seen. I didn’t like the CGI cats either. It wasn’t bad, just felt out of place. The film did make me realize that cats are awesome vampire detectors. If I ever see a cat hiss and jump at someone I’ll no doubt have proof that the person is a vampire.

    “Eli seems to say at one point, that her murders are motivated only by need, and implies, somehow, without judging that his are not quite “right”.”

    Yes, the film does seem to suggest that there is a difference in the use of violence for survival and violence for self-satisfaction. We sympathize with Eli even though she’s a vampire who kills innocent people, yet we don’t sympathize with the bullies even though their use of violence is less severe. It’s because Eli (and her “guardian”) does it for practical reasons and the other for personal satisfaction. I found the bullies’ use of violence much more disturbing than any of the killings, just because of how gleeful and sadistic they seemed at times.

  6. This is true, perhaps the cats were included for this very reason, to warn te masses of vampire presences.

    The bullies violence was terrible, very hurtful and yes, disturbing. The time Oskar retaliates, I was heartbroken that the teacher completely misunderstood his action. Though, it was not unexpected as the adults do seem rather naive and uninterested in the world of children.

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