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Let the Right One In | (Låt den Rätte Komma In) (2008)
Summary: The most fulfilling vampire movie in modern memory. Yes, really.
Warnings: "R" or more; a mind-searing if ambiguous 12-year-old vampire pubic shot? Argh.
Hell Points: 9/10 as per the Demonshrine "adjusted for budget" rules.
The demons send out various minions for movies. When (a chipper female) returned crowing about a "vampire movie" the demons gnashed their teeth and could only think one thing: we had promised not to watch Twilight. Not even the posters. Demons are made to suffer, but Twilight makes a lake of fire look inviting indeed.
And so it sat on the DVD turnstile unwatched for many a day. And a strange thing happened. The movie called to the demons. Inviting them. They checked the box with slitted eyes. Great snakes, it wasn't Twilight! This immediately made the movie superior.
Let the Right One In... never heard of it. A quick glance and it was found to be Swedish. Formerly Viking and pagan territory, still capable of producing a decent metal band, but decidedly weak at movies, all in all. But it wasn't Twilight.
Oh hell no, it was not. Let the Right One In was what lets the demons tolerate earthly existence, the hope and proof that great things can come from unexpected places. Where to begin? The animal and human psyche fighting behind Eli's eyes as she perversely laps blood from the floor?
Perhaps to begin with the plot... The movie is roughly based on a vampire fiction novel from the pen of John Ajvide Lindqvist. Not on the demon radar. Sorry John. Apparently the book was very bleak, darker against humanity, and a bestseller in Sweden. Several hundred copies, or whatever that requires. The location in book and movie are the same, as it the setting, 1982, Stockholm, suburb, working class heavy set pieces remarkably adept at teasing-out the active influences of the era, nearly behind the Iron Curtain, caught in two sides of the cold war. Mother Russia wins the architecture prize in the movie version.
What makes the movie great are the little things, vampire or otherwise. Demons will have heard this summary before: a scrawny, book-smart young boy is terrorized by schoolyard bullies, accepts it, finds a mentor that teaches him acceptance is not always the best route, things escalate, the end. Or, Let the Right One In could read as this on an alternate jacket: a shy human slowly enters the world of a vampire and young love, horrified and fascinated, with an eventual partnership and parting that leaves both with new views on life and death.
Neither summary is adequate. The film is nearly perfect. Unlike Disney (oh, the demons have done their time, what do you think plays in hell, eh?), adults are neither absent nor sidelined. They are not bumbling and blind. And yet they do not see. An older man and a girl too young and spindly to be his proper daughter move into a shambles of a hostel. He's her familiar, and we take it back, he's a bumbling sort. For whatever reason, he gasses, lifts upwards, slices throats, and collects fresh blood in an elaborate process that kills the victims and leaves glaring headline-grabbing corpses scattered about.
As the familiar fails not once, but twice, the vampire, a 12-year-old girl (maybe) named Eli creeps about, calling upon everything that was wonderful in Poe: the arabesque preceding and ramining punctuated within the grotesque. For an endless stretch of frames, one many pseudo demons may find boring, the film grows both Eli and the principle human character, a 12-year-old boy, Oskar.
She smells funny, Oskar notes. Having been bullied to "squeal like a pig" and invoking James Dickey and Deliverance, and with no friends and estranged parents, Oskar keeps most of his observations to himself. He also asks if she's not cold, flitting about barefoot in what is presented as a never-ending cold and snow of Stockholm. Her first demonstration of anything supernatural is the solving of a Rubik's cube. Creepy. Unnatural.
About now, the demons had assessed the movie as though they have not seen it a sort of superior Twilight. Oh, will they kiss? Yawn. Director Tomas Alfredson turns on the heat at the perfect moment, and what in lesser films would be "character development" (read: movies need to be 90 minutes and we've only got budget for one CGI scene), becomes essential to everything that follows.
On Eli's advice &151; and here for once we'll honestly state spoiler alerts, for this film is too good to spoil &151; Oskar responds to his key bully during a bout of skating around in P.E. stupidity recognizable to anyone in schools worldwide in the 1980s. The bully explains that while Oskar has armed himself with a long stick (earlier used to push a dead body into a pool of warm effluence), he will come to Oskar, push him into the icy water behind, and that will be that. Unaware Eli is a vampire, Oskar whacks the bully, a good solid thump that does significant damage to the ear. Fight over. There's no sense of the Karate Kid, there is no triumph; it is anticlimactic and meaningfully so, it feels real.
Punished, Oskar returns to his routine, with other moments that both intensify later horrors and would serve as fine pieces in the best of non-vampire dramas. Imprisoned in his world, as Eli - next door - is imprisoned in hers, he communicates with her through the wall in Morse code. Dot dash dash, if not a direct nod to The Count of Monte Cristo, forgive the demons for wanting it to be, for the movie begins its final fatal phase of unconcealable carnage and vengeance, vampire style.
Eli's familiar fails yet again, douses himself with acid, and is arrested. She feeds on a couple of the semi-oblivious adults, and here again the direction is superb. Have you seen a vampire movie with no fangs, not once? You will, or you should. The attacks are violent, but not overpowering: Eli is alluring, siren-like, not stalking if she can use her human waifishness to bring an old sot a little closer into shadows.
A few more details in the lack of teeth vein (yes, we're clever, groan if you must). Eli dresses basically, poorly, never more than a single layer of anything. Forget the lace and vintage dresses in a box. Her teeth are normal. She is not terribly attractive, and one demon, the lout exclaimed "damn she's ugly" on first sight. The same demon declared not only her performance but she herself "beautiful" by the end. Her gypsy-dark features are a violent contract to Oskar's shock of white-blond hair and nearly translucent skin; the colors of her clothing, his, the tractors and barns and such, are remarkable cinematography and symbolic in interesting ways; Spielberg or Lucas would find inspiration from choices made.
In short, Eli is a throw-back before Stoker, a vampire with no desire to feed or kill, with a familiar who fails, nearly no possessions, threadbare wardrobe, and exceptionally careless hygiene - covered in blood, dirt under nails, grubby hands - time perhaps for a shower? And shower she does, and Oskar in his growing love for her, though she's told him she is not a "girl" quickly glimpses her pubis... and even the demons found it hard to watch or forget this most overt deformity of the child; a flash of a horizontal "something" that looked perhaps stitched, perhaps neutral, definitely sterile. Eli has been "twelve for a long time" - and can know nothing of the sensual pleasures of the vampires demons have hissed at in the works of Anne Rice, the Lost Boys, presumably Twilight, and even the cast-poor but otherwise quality take on Stoker that gave the world the brilliant Gary Oldman in his many guises.
How could love exist in this? Back from feeding on her acid-bathed familiar, who offers himself to her, Eli asks admittance to Oskar's room, her snow-crusted and dirty, bare feet on the floor, then her clothing, she demands he not look, and he does not; she crawls cold and nude into his bed, spooning her blond counterpart. He asks if they can be together - and after wrangling over the issues of gender and more, agree, without saying as much, love is not sex, nor even gender.
Powerful, moving; no kissy-face Lestat and Louis arrangement here; the innocence of the love is pure the inability to consummate unimportant (ignoring the age issue) and yet terribly important, for it moves Eli and Oskar's love to a higher plane of Socratic love, transcendant and spiritual: Eros in the air, not lust and cupidity. This is a vampire who has not been loved, who does not perhaps wish to be loved. But she is, and she loves back, in her way.
The middle-to-ending is replete with action, yet it is not the actions that are of consequence, though they drive the decisions and plot along. Suffice that an interrupted feeding infects one of the adults, who upon recognizing that she is no longer a cat person (the cat scene a reminder both of older lore and King's vampire-like Sleepwalkers), comes to terms with her vampirism in the hospital and asks that the Persians be drawn up in flames she goes, her choice made a pathetic adult life of beer and loveless couples... yet in her horror of her new self electing death, her will weaker than this sprite of a sexless girl.
Her husband tracks into the spare apartment Eli resides within, spending the day in the bathroom, bathtub, under covers, sensitive to light as the burnt woman made clear - and quite possibly capable of being harmed and killed with no more than a pocket knife. In one of her several charmingly hand-written (no Victorian cursive, her hand is shaky; letters and paper of choice as careless as her dress habits) quick notes, she'd politely asked Oskar not to disturb her. He saves her from light or blade with an act that he may or may not have been capable of completing, pulling a knife on the adult the noise is enough to awaken Eli, the door closes among excellent sound effect, the veil once again drawn over a "buckets of blood" scene in such a way the viewer feels enhances rather than cheats. Goodbye, drunkard husband.
Horrified, not for the first time, Oskar retreats to his mother's apartment. Eli knocks on the door; she must leave, she's come to say goodbye. In what may be the first attempt the demons recall to explore the effect on a vampire when not explicitly permitted entrance... but enters anyway, as Oskar is curious, in an excellent practical effect (and the sound is wrenching), Eli begins to bleed from her pores and orifices; her ears popping blood, her eyes invoking Christian stigmata figures. Oskar grants her permission, ashamed or scared or worried the character is complex enough to cover any interpretation.
And that is that, the typical script (it seems) puts Oskar alone, falling into a trap from the bully, or from the bully and his followers, and with his elder brother dictating. Forced underwater in a swimming pool, the climax occurs in a wonderful scene: Oskar's head underwater, his last breath depleted, his life exhausted... and his deus ex machina arrives. Through the shimmering and distorting lens of water, the demons cheered as one boy's legs whip preternaturally fast, and backwards, skimming through the water; a head goes swimming past... and the hand holding Oskar down floats gently to the bottom, dismembered. Eli pulls her beloved from his unpleasant baptism and from the violence. Her contact lenses (eyes) dilated and aglow; once more spattered with blood, not for the first time looking like an apprentice of Jackson Pollack carelessly near a canvas in progress.
And they depart together a final time, it is in an eerie scene of a Soviet-styled train car. Oskar taps Morse code for "KISS" to whatever is in the large trunk beside him on the floor. Their love intact, the harsh world they share made one between man and fantasy, gender of no import. This is a vampire in a crude box and her loving young boy together on a train that can lead nowhere better; but place is not the key. One dark, one light, self-made heaven or hell are what they will bring emotionally to the next spare apartment and even such a fountain of words as this does the emotions and camera no justice, no more than Shane can be appreciated in a poster, or the atmosphere of Psycho put into a paragraph.
This is a vampire movie for all time. Where "vampire" is only a description, it is a movie for all time. Let the Right One In is a masterpiece of the genre, in any language (and the audio should be appreciated in Swedish, the subtitles convey the meaning, there is a lilt of Swedish that powers the original). A testament to vampires, to cinema, and one that will be destroyed in all but basic plot when remade in Hollywood, as it surely will be. Buy and view the original, writhe in delight and horror; feel a desperate need to tell the world what you have witnessed by the end.
The demons have spoken.
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