Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Let the Right One In (2008)

Country: SWEDEN

Lat den ratte komma in

The surprising commercial success of Twilight (2008) as ensured that the vampire is back haunting the multiplexes with a bang. Although Twilight has gone on to become the most successful vampire film of all time it was essentially a hollow hearted experience, slick but lacking in substance. Whilst the media frenzy exploded for this saccharine garbage, a film from Sweden slipped under the radar that was superior to Twilight in every conceivable way. Let the Right One In was never going to find its audience theatrically, it is an artistic film, and so it was shunned by the mindless multiplexes. But on rental and DVD the film has proved very successful, even if Blockbuster Video have to warn there customers with a garish sticker that the film is subtitled.

What is immediately noticeable about this film is how the generic iconography one associates with vampire films is given secondary importance. Of course we have several signifiers of this form, but they are unusually downplayed and given an almost matter-of-fact treatment. Instead the film is concerned with the complex relationships and motivations of a difficult period in the adolescence of a troubled boy. The films interrogation of character, its exploration of motives and its themes of alienation and loneliness is what gives Let the Right One In the taste of an art film. The films multi-narrative structure also separates it from any generic forebears. We have a strand dealing with Oskar’s strained and broken family, we have a strand that follows a group of townsfolk, one of whom becomes a victim of the vampire girl, we have Oskar’s ongoing narrative with a group of sadistic bullies, and we also follow Eli’s guardian who is forced to murder to provide her with blood. These narrative strands coalesce and intersect with intelligence, and instead of destabilising the plot, add extra layers of value and meaning to the proceedings. The murders that occur haunt this small community, and Alfredson is happy to show the flip side of the friendship that Oskar has with Eli. He is also not afraid to show the indignity, humiliation and downright grubbiness of being dependent on blood to survive.

Alfredson and his DOP Hoyte Van Hoytema create a fascinating wintry landscape that has had the life and colour bled out of it. The snows resolute permanence flies in the face of the fleeting moments Eli and Oskar share, and the landscape offers strangulation and claustrophobia. It offers a metaphor for Eli’s condition, a grave reminder that escape isn’t really possible. The pale and lifeless Oskar also craves escape and through Eli is able to achieve that aim. This is a world that has had the life squeezed out of it, which makes the sight of blood even more impressive and significant. The film is devoid of the set piece structure of modern horror, owing to its multiple narrative arrangement, but Alfredson does mount a tremendous sequence at an indoor swimming pool. With the camera firmly fixed on Oskar underwater, Alfredson uses the frame very well and composes a scene which gives us a true indication of Eli’s abilities. The subtle and mesmerising soundtrack by Johan Sonerqvist is married poetically with the snowfall, and adds to the aching tenderness and awkwardness of the relationship. The performances from the two young leads is astonishing in its innocence and honesty, of special note is Lina Leandersson as Eli, who appears much older than her years, and gives substance to the assertion that Eli is hundreds of years old. In one of the films best scenes we briefly glimpse her true crone like features which proves she is anything but the girl that Oskar wants. At turns depressing, downbeat and gloomy, the film ends on an uplifting note of escape. But the realisation that Oskar will in all likelihood grow up to become Eli’s next guardian and face a life of dislocation and murder leaves a bittersweet taste.

© Shaun Anderson 2010

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