Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)

Let the Right One In movie poster

 

Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) is unapologetically a vampire story. It follows most of the rules of the genre but avoids the standard trappings of spectacular bloodletting (like, say, Blade) and simplistic sexual metaphors (we’re looking at you, Twilight). Director Tomas Alfredson and screenwriter John Ajvide (adapting his own novel) are startlingly frank not just in their depictions of the ritualistic violence inherent in a vampire’s everyday toil, but also in the desperate hungers and desires of all their human characters as well.

Novel and film are both set in 1980s Sweden, at a time when the famously independent, neutral nation was struggling through a Cold War economic recession. 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is meek, frail, and so fair as to seem albino. He splits his time between a scolding mother and a loving but distant father with unexplained secrets. The only time we see Oskar happy is when playing in the snow at his father’s rural home. An ominous guest arrives, muting even conversation (we never learn the man’s identity, or the reason for his smothering effect, but for story purposes it only matters that Oskar cannot be happy even here). Oskar is constantly bullied by school thugs seemingly inspired by the savage torturers from the movie Deliverance: their favorite taunt is to demand he squeal like a pig. The constant pressure drives him morbidly inward, rapidly becoming a potential danger to himself and others. He secretly collects gruesome newspaper clippings of local crimes, and sneaks outside at night to playact his vengeance with matches and a knife. It’s easy for a 21st Century viewer to imagine Oskar becoming a school shooter.

Lina Leandersson in Let the Right One InEli (Lina Leandersson) has been twelve for a long time

A mysterious couple moves in next door in the dead of night: Eli (Lina Leandersson), a girl appearing about his age, and her adult companion Håkan (Per Ragnar). Eli interrupts one of Oskar’s solitary nighttime revenge fantasies, and they strike up a sort of friendship. As the habitually aloof Eli warms to his company, she advises him to fight back against his oppressors. When he gets a chance to do so, Hedebrant’s startling performance during his triumph conveys a disturbing impression of a too-young boy experiencing a kind of ecstasy. Compare and contrast his obvious pleasure with the wholly dispassionate murders committed by Eli and Håkan. One wonders how Alfredson directed the young actor towards such a performance, and how much Hedebrant knew about the subtext of how the scene would play on the screen. As becomes clear, Eli may not have had the boy’s best interests at heart; was she urging him to stand up for himself, or setting him up for a bigger fall later? Either way, she succeeds in binding him more closely to her.

Although Oskar is pubescent, his infatuation with her does not seem to be especially sexual. His hungers are more for companionship and understanding. Eli says she is “not a girl,” and asks Oskar if he would still like her were she not. With little hesitation, he answers yes. He catches a glimpse of her naked torso, seeing what seems to be a castration mark. But Eli is far more than just not a girl. Subtle special effects give us fleeting images of her with eerily enlarged eyes and as an older woman. She is permanently frozen in a state of childhood, but it seems she hasn’t matured intellectually and emotionally as her body remains in stasis (unlike the young character Claudia in Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire). As she tells him “I’ve been twelve for a long time.”

Let the Right One InVampires are hot stuff in bed

Although it doesn’t resemble more typical vampire tales, Let the Right One In does follow most of the mythos: vampires have to be invited in (hence the name; to enter uninvited will cause a painful, bloody death – a fate Eli demonstrates to Oskar to prove her affection for him); any victim bitten but not killed will become a vampire (Eli is shown to break a victim’s spine after feeding – a belated form of mercy coming from a vampire, I suppose); housecats are compelled to attack vampires (as seen in not one of the most convincing special effects sequences), and sunlight causes them to spontaneously combust (as seen in one very convincing sequence).

Eli shares with Oskar her motto “To flee is life. To linger, death.” Like her encouragement to fight back against bullies, here is the key to understanding the mystery of her devoted human companion Håkan. Eli has outsourced her physical needs to her selflessly devoted servant, essentially making him into a serial killer on her behalf. What motivates him to comply? Was he once a boy, like Oscar, that fell in love with her? Whatever their bond, she ensures that Oskar is next in line to become her new provider.

After writing the above, I read The A.V. Club’s excellent Book Vs. Film: Let the Right One In by Tasha Robinson (part of a series also including Watchmen). In short, yes, a great deal needed to be omitted from the novel to shape the story into a feature film. But Robinson approves; rather than leaving too much out, the movie fruitfully chooses a very different, more internal version of the story. Some tidbits gleaned from the article that may be of interest to anyone else that hasn’t read the book:

  • The book is a more graphic, conventional horror story.
  • Oskar’s father’s friend is a less sinister character in the book. Simply, he’s a drinking buddy, and Oskar’s otherwise decent father is apparently a mean drunk.
  • The title is derived from a Morrissey song quoted in the book: “Let the right one in / let the old dreams die / let the wrong ones go / They cannot do what you want them to do”
  • The Oskar of the novel is overweight, inspiring the bullies’ “piggy” taunts.
  • The Håkan of the book is a pedophile. Eli encountered him as an adult, and she trades some sexual favors for his services. Skimming the comments left below Robinson’s article, I see most other viewers interpreted the movie the same way I did.

Official movie site: www.lettherightoneinmovie.com

Must read: Let the Wrong Subtitles in to Let the Right One In. Icons of Fright finds the English translation lacking.

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The Omega Man

The Omega Man movie poster

 

Now that’s a good intro: Robert Neville (Charlton Heston) cruises through an empty city with the top down. It’s eerie, but he seems happy, grooving to jazz from his onboard 8-track cassette deck. But suddenly! Screech! Ka-pow! He brakes, produces a machine gun and fires at a fleeting humanoid silhouette. A striking montage follows of a desolated, deserted city.

Heston was once known as a liberal, and here his character entertains an interracial romance (with afro-licious Rosalind Cash) no more common in movies now than it was in 1971. Unfortunately, it’s now impossible to take Heston seriously, thanks to Phil Hartman’s classic mockery on Saturday Night Live and to Heston’s own Alzheimer’s-fueled descent into right-wing senility.

Charlton Heston in The Omega ManAl Gore can take my gun from my cold, dead hands

Interestingly, Heston’s oeuvre is dominated by dystopian sci-fi: Planet of the Apes, The Ωmega Man, and Soylent Green form a trilogy of apocalyptic despair. Remakes of Apes (by Tim Burton) and Ωmega (Wil Smith’s I Am Legend) made him nearly obsolete even before he died. Can Soylent Green (which is, incidentally, much better than its reputation suggests) be far behind?

Compared to the bestial vampires that populate I Am Legend, the creatures in The Ωmega Man are an intelligent, religous cult. They don’t attack Neville with technology (like, say, shoot him) simply because they choose not to.

Charlton Heston in The Omega ManIs the last man on earth man enough?

As for entertainment in a time before VHS, the last man alive on earth is stuck with whatever happened to be in the theaters at the time; he screens the concert film Woodstock over and over. As for The Ωmega Man’s own music, the orchestral jazz pop score is not just outdated, but bizarrely inappropriate.

The crucifixion pose at the end is a bit much. I didn’t expect much subtlety, but that’s laying it on a bit thick.


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