If you are going to see only one movie based on a book adaptation this year about the relationship between two young people, one of whom is a vampire, let that one movie by Let the Right One In. For the love of God and all things good, do not go see Twilight…
Unless your significant other is so turned on by the guy who plays the male protagonist that she will be mentallying projecting his image on (what is most likely going to be a much inferior) your body that you’ll get laid…
Which if it resembles the book in any way at all, means that you won’t get laid. So please, skip Twilight, and see Let the Right One In instead.
What is Let the Right One In, or as it’s called in its native Swedish tongue, Låt den rätte komma in. Already an astute and ironic reader will have made a mental note about this: namely, that it is foreign, and that it will have subtitles. And this very astute reader will have also assumed certain things, correctly I’d say, about me: namely, that I am one of those people who enjoy, without irony, arty foreign movies with subtitles that are released by independent distributors and shown only at a select number of theatres.
But I would ask the astute reader to, for a moment at least, put aside those justified condescensions about people who enjoy foreign language arthouse cinema and give this film a honest, open-minded chance. Because it has much to offer, and this is a point I cannot emphasize enough, it is leaps and bounds better than Twilight.
The plot is simple: Oskar, a 12 year old Swedish boy living in the tail-end of the 80s, shortly before the Wall came down, is constantly being bullied at school, collects newspaper clippings of murders, and someone whom you know, if not intervened upon, will exact Columbine-style revenge on his high school one day–this same Oskar meets Eli, a 12 year old looking girl who moves in next door in his run-down aparment complex with what appears to be her father, and then proceeds to duct tape all windows with heavy cardboard to block out the light.
You can see where this is going: it is obvious that Eli is a vampire, a 200 year old vampire that happens to be trapped, both physically and emotionally, in the body of a 12 year old. Two outsiders, though for different reasons, develop a budding friendship, but complicated by the fact that one of them needs to drink blood everyday.
It really is a simple story, but the movie loses nothing from this classic premise. The devil, as they say, is in the details. The movie gives a sympathetic and realistic portrayal of what it is like to be a couple of 12 year olds, socially awkward, alienated, and outcast. It depicts, with subtlety, the kind of working-class despair in working-class towns at the tail-end of the Cold War. The movie also does not shy away from the violence that inevitably comes with being a vampire, though such violence is always treated very realistically, without making it stylish. There is also great attention paid to what exactly it would take, from a logistical point of view, to extract blood from a victim as to make the whole process as efficient as possible.
So in a way, you can call this movie a realist vampire drama. Another way of putting it is that the movie features realistic characters, one of whom happens to be a vampire. And it takes seriously the question of what life would be like as a 12 year old girl who has the need to drink blood everyday. If you take away the vampire element, the movie is like a modern update of My Life As A Dog, another Swedish movie adapted from a book that came out in 1985 (see a pattern yet?)
And the best thing about the movie is undoubtedly the developing relationship between Eli and Oskar. It would have been easy to go with the forbidden love angle, as Twilight does so artlessly (as it crudely reduces the relationship between the two protagonists into a simple metaphor for miscegenation, fear of losing one’s virginity, etc). The relationship between Eli and Oskar is beyond sex, because the sexuality is incidental to their relationship. There is a scene in which they both lie naked under the sheets, but this scene is presented intimately, but erotically. But in a Hollywood movie, this scene is virtually impossible because it raises the spectre of that which cannnot be mentioned: children’s sexuality.
Second, the relationship between Eli and Oskar bypasses gender altogether, as Eli asks Oskar at one point whether he would still like her if she was not a girl. Obviously this question contains symbolic meaning whose nature is only clear to the audience, but not to Oskar. Yet in this moment of dramatic irony, Oskar innoncently asks: are you a boy? And just as soon as this question is posed, he says it doesn’t really matter what Eli is. It is little touches like this that make this movie sweet, yes, sweet, something you normally do not expect from a vampire flick.
Perhaps the best way to think about this movie is to see it as a contemporary fairy tale, but not the Disney kind. Because like all fairy tales, Let the Right One In is a story about children and the inevitably dark, sinister undercurrents that lie beneath. The technical aspects of the movie really reinforces this, as the palette is almost entirely white, which makes the rare and sudden gushing of blood that much more visually stunning as you see the almost black-ish red blood flow across the immaculately white snow. The cinematography really captures winter, and certain long shots really establish the mood quite effectively.
So please, I urge you, see this movie instead of Twilight. And see it before the inevitable American remake defangs (pun intended) all that is good about the original.