Thursday, 31 December 2009

Let the Right One In

It’s been snowing, and as I write this the year is dying. A good time, then, to review a film set in a Swedish winter during the second Cold War.
            Let the Right One In is a remarkable, unpretentious and very satisfying retake on the theme of the vampire as lonely outcast, and the fascination such a creature might exert on a certain kind of human. The twist, as you probably know if you’re into that sort of thing, is that the vampire in this case is a child – girl called Eli who has been ‘twelve for a long time’. While child vampires have been around a while, Eli is – I think – the first leading character of this sort.
            Oskar, Eli’s lonely neighbour, has been twelve for just over nine months. He lives with his divorced mother and sometimes visits his (gay) dad. He is being bullied at school and collects newspaper cuttings about grisly crimes; remember, we are in the late Seventies and there are not yet any handy websites for such lads. A strange killing in which the victim is hung upside down in a wood and drained of blood naturally draws Oskar’s attention. Little does he know that the perpetrator is Eli’s minion. (Yes, like James Mason in Salem’s Lot, only not really.)
            Eli’s factotum is, it turns out, getting a bit old and sloppy. Soon he is cornered, leading to a nasty scene with a jar of something corrosive. Eli is forced to fend for herself among the striking if not conventionally Gothic settings of a snowbound concrete housing estate. It’s interesting that there is no vampire-hunting rigmarole here, no van Helsing figure to sort it all out. I think this is a great improvement, because if there’s one thing a modern vampire story doesn’t need its exposition. And another thing is occult paraphernalia.
            This is a supernatural story, though. We see Eli scale the outside of a building in accepted fashion, and she can fly, though we only see indirect evidence of this. Obliquity alternates with grubby realism, in fact. We don’t see the magic, but we see an awful lot of blood. We also see romance, of a sort, as it’s clear from the start that poor baffled Oskar will latch onto anyone who is kind and takes an interest. When Eli warns him early on that she’s ‘not a girl’ it clearly doesn’t bother him much.
            This is a film of simple plot and striking scenes, with some nice ideas and touches of humour. It also shows a considerable grasp of the horror genre, not just famous vampire flicks. At one point Eli’s attempt to feed on a drunken local is thwarted and the semi-drained woman is ‘vampirised’. Her new status leads to all sorts of bother, not least when a friend’s houseful of moggies attack her. The resulting scene is a clever homage toThe Cat Creature, an obscure movie based on a Robert Bloch novel. Bravo, say I. But it’s not a moment to be savoured by your soft-hearted old auntie.
              I’ll be interested to see what happens when Hollywood (devoid of ideas, as usual) remakes this one. No, on second thoughts, I probably won’t be interested, because I suspect the result will be yet another unbalanced, inartistic mess that will be hard to sit through. There is something Old World about the relationship between Eli and Oskar, and I suspect some jerk will try to turn them into the Bonnie and Clyde of the undead realm. Well, the original is out there, and comes highly recommended.