Post Millennial Trauma: Let the Right One In (2008)
I’ve been putting off this series for a while, as I desperately wanted to do something that isn’t called Let the Right One In for 2008, because I wanted to save it for the Vampire series. Unfortunately for me, looking through the thoroughly underwhelming list of 2008 horror films (there are some good ones in there, Splinter for example, but nothing that I really wanted to do) there was one film that stood out- Sweden’s imperious Let the Right One In. Let me preface this with that I don’t want to talk about the remake at all- this is really more me reminiscing back to seeing this one in the cinema, and the reaction that it left me with. I do hate to go all Knowlesian in a review, but there’s nothing really more to be said about this film critically, and so I’m going to attempt to enunciate what I believe made it so damned successful.
There’s an old saying that goes around: even a blind squirrel can find a nut on some days. This is a saying that really sums up how I discovered this film- I read what is laughably called an article at Gingertown where the morbidly obese sell-out slated the Academy for not allowing this film in as the Foreign Language nominee for Sweden (amusingly, he was, once again, factually miles off base and there were legitimate reasons for it). Now, by this stage, I’d been around the block, and been burnt, enough times to take anything the walking lump of Type 2 diabetes said with enough salt to harden an Elephant’s arteries. However, there was something about this film that caught my eye. Having little faith that it would get a release anywhere near me (obscure Swedish Horror films don’t tend to go down well with the Camden audience), I promptly forgot about it. Low and behold, next May, Camden Odeon have it on. So, with a spirit of adventure, myself and Mrs. Jarv went to see it.
In a cinema with 4 people in it. If you ever wonder why there’s so much crap out there in the multiplexes- well, there’s your answer.
Let the Right One In tells the story of teenage loser Oskar. He’s got no mates, lives in abject poverty, and really hangs around on the fringes of society. Into his life comes Eli. Eli is (big spoiler this one, for the one person on the planet that doesn’t know) a vampire caught on the cusp of adulthood for all eternity. She’s “looked after” by “The Man” who has the privilege of selecting her victims, killing them and then bringing the blood home to her. Gradually over the course of the film she befriends Oskar before the bloody climax and deeply depressing denoument. This is a very, very powerful film.
The acting in this film is superb. On the basis that it is, at core, an extended metaphor for paedophile grooming (swap fangs for a facebook account and you’re there), the portrayal of Oskar by Kåre Hedebrant is outstanding. He manages to pathetically shuffle round the screen, portraying a neediness and vulnerability that screams out “victim”. It’s to the film’s immense credit that he manages to carry the film on his shoulders, as a more obvious performance would have fatally ruined it. Secondly, Lina Leandersson is equally fantastic as Eli. This is a performance that combines a sense of sympathy with some extreme savagery and also a certain weariness to really accentuate all the contradictions inherent in a character that’s older than she cares to remember, but still essentially a child. The supporting cast, particularly Per Ragnar as Hakan/ The Man are all on fine form. Nevertheless, this is a film where the acting had to be note perfect. The film hinges on the relationship between the two children- you have to believe that Oskar would come to depend on Eli as his only friend, and that Eli, despite being a vampire has a certain fragility as without this conceit the film would collapse.
There is a lot of gore in this (the man’s final attempt, followed by the acid burning and Eli’s visit to the hospital leaping to mind), and it’s necessary for the film. Eli is a monster- she enslaves men for life and has them murder innocents so she can feed. However, some of the gore veers a touch towards comedy (the aforementioned scene) and although it does walk this knife-edge, these scenes have an uneasy, farcical quality to them: it is kind-of-funny when Eli drops down on a local degenerate, and it is sort of amusing when the victim spontaneously combusts, but we’re not laughing because it is actually funny, more a nervous chuckle that allows the tension to dissipate slightly, and allows a brief moment of levity to the otherwise relentlessly bleak action on screen.
Which brings me on to the atmosphere of the film. We came out shellshocked. Not because Let the Right One In is particularly frightening, because it isn’t, but because this is an astonishingly sad film. The pathos pours off the screen, from the silent opening to the heart-rending ending, every single frame is testament to a particularly bleak sense of destiny- Let the Right One In is almost beyond nihilistic. The film never actually becomes genuinely frightening, because it can’t. What we are watching here isn’t so much a horror movie as a slowly unfolding tragedy where the ending is as inevitable as it is predictable. That it does play out exactly how we expected it to does not lessen the impact of the ending- knowing Oskar is willingly following a path that many others have already followed with inevitably disastrous results doesn’t supply the moment of catharsis that we need in a film like this. However, that he looks so happy to be on this path, does.
I recently rewatched this film for the express purpose of this review, and it wasn’t as effective for me. There are several serious problems that stop me handing out a maximum, and I actually think I overrated it on first viewing. The first is the CGI- which is crap. The CGI cats in this film are notoriously shoddy, and it deserves all the stick it gets on this front. Secondly, the flash scene of Eli’s mutilated genitals makes absolutely no sense at all. In the novel, apparently, it’s because she is actually a mutilated he, but in the film what we have is a prepubescent teenage girl lift her skirt. It’s probably the sole moment of gratuitous nastiness in the movie, and we, frankly, don’t need to see it. I knew it was coming, so as an experiment watched the film and skipped over the scene- it didn’t make any difference at all.
Overall, this is an excellent film, a really really good modern vampire story. I have no opinion about the remake, although I wish they hadn’t done it, but I do recommend that everyone that can see this film does see this film. It’s truly very good. Sad, but good. I give it 3 goth vampire chicks on a snowy background out of 4. Recommended.
Until next time,