Let The Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008) March 19, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in European Films, Literature.
Swedish Title: Låt den rätte komma in
Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl
This movie from Sweden, which has beat the hell out of audiences around the world, outplays every film released last year. It is horror at its finest: full of corrupting fear that paralyzes, surprises, and thrills. It employs shock and awe without defeating us, for its story aims to figure the vitality of chronic isolation that leads to solitary temperament, especially on kids who are growing up with hatred and violence in a deceivingly peaceful suburban home.
Oskar, a 12-year-old boy, lives with his mother in a drab apartment complex a train away from the city. He is constantly bullied by Conny, a classmate who has two escorts with him. Like any other bullies he makes an effort to torment Oskar, even to the point of whipping his face. When he gets home from school, Oskar dreams of stabbing Conny until he squeals like a pig. One night Oskar has found a companion with Eli, a pale young girl who has moved into the flat next to their home with an old man. They get close despite Oskar knowing that there is something different about her. That she is a vampire, that she has an old man to help her feed on blood, and that she is a 12-year-old girl more or less do not change the affection that Oskar feels for her. Their relationship deepens and their bond becomes almost inseparable, as Eli saves Oskar from the cruel rage of his bullies in the film’s shattering climax.
For a genre film that can easily rely on gore and scream fest, Let The Right One In seduces with a disturbing vibe of calmness. Its incisive look on the nature of violence through a kid who learns it slowly but surely is fascinating. It is able to seam the supernatural elements effortlessly with the vulnerable details of Oskar’s puberty, giving it a certain familiarity out of strangeness. From the moment when Eli speaks to Oskar as he forcefully stabs a tree, which is a way for him to release his fury freely, to that bittersweet end as they exchange virtual kisses, the relationship is striking for its fragility, purity, and impending doom. As he looks at her as she twists the Rubik’s cube, there is that hunger for affection, seeking for warmth to comfort his little troubles, and Eli, on her part, also shows her willingness to fold for Oskar’s sake. That tender scene when Oskar embraces her, after puking the candy she obliged herself to eat, frames a portrait of love that is as indelible as any beautiful childhood memory.
Horror is often related to violence, and violence, even in its mildest form, is always done with intent, which is either to inflict harm or to survive. An individual can have both reasons, depending on the necessity of his will. Violence on Oskar is intended to belittle him, to cripple his wonderful view of the world, to teach him as early as now the reality of things. It is up to him to fight or to accept, but he decides to ignore them and build a fence around himself to numb the pain. His defense is commonly seen as weakness, but an introvert like Oskar, who also tries to socialize (like applying for a weightlifting practice), is doing it for himself to divert his attention, to keep himself unaware of the ugly things around him. He consents to violence until he meets Eli, someone who shakes his idea of subservience. Thus, we connect to his isolation because he does not deserve such treatment.
Eli, on the other hand, needs violence to survive. As long as there are people around to help her live, like Hakan, who can be perceived as either his surrogate father or a childhood lover like Oskar who remained faithful to her through the years, the night will always be hers. She is violent like any vampire who cannot control her hunger. It is already common knowledge that vampires kill to live, but Alfredson doesn’t dwell on that. There is also no attempt to humanize Eli’s character, because, well, she is not human. She is presented as a visitor in Oskar’s life, meeting him when he has no one else to turn to, as she eventually becomes the most important person in his life.
The dynamics of the two horrors (or intents of violence) surface with a mighty blow that is more concerned with reflecting the heart of darkness than sporting schlock suspense. The shots are framed delicately, sometimes fearfully distant and at times numbingly close, that they almost force you not to breathe. The sound design is as perfect as any masterful horror film does have; the music is composed and beautifully laid out like notes of a Mozart piece. The symphony of its audio-visual and offscreen elements – – specifically the sound of dripping blood, the noise of Eli’s hunger pangs, the calculated timing of the first murder and the humor that comes after it, the many reflections of Oskar in the mirror, the sight of Eli climbing the walls of the hospital and crossing from Oskar’s window to her home, the feline attack, the astonishing effect of light on the woman who burst into flames (a Nosferatu allusion), the answer to Eli’s ambiguous sexuality validated in just one brief shot, the brimming happiness of Oskar while he is on vacation, the homosexual hints of his father, and the snow as a murder accomplice and not a witness – – reveals that it is less a film than a building with breathtaking architecture. All its ambiguities are beautiful.
Let The Right One In is set in the 80s but it doesn’t feel like one. It feels closer to the present, closer to the smell of a cramped neighborhood in the city where distance is measured emotionally. Or maybe the feeling of reclusion is similar, all the same in every place or time, whether in suburbia or urban settlements, whether before or now. But certainly the surroundings matter in shaping one’s self, unconsciously or otherwise. The people around, the institutions that make up a community, and the circumstances all contribute to one’s individualism, actions that liberate himself more than the society where he belongs. What Lindqvist and Alfredson have achieved, aside from the compelling blend of myth and novelistic appropriateness, is not exactly opposed to collectivism. It crosses the environment of aloofness to go over the milieu of sociological ferment that sometimes goes unnoticed.
It is Schulz through Charlie Brown who said that until it is demonstrated, one forgets the really great difference that exists between the merely competent amateur and the very expert professional. But here it is easy to differentiate. Even when evenings are clear like a sunny day and mornings are always draped in fear, Let The Right One In has proven its authors’ command of both literary and cinematic language. Alfredson and Lindqvist have crafted a landmark work, a shining splinter of come-hither evil that will surely be remembered in the years, or even decades, to come.