Lets assess our three favorite Western monsters in a thematic context. Werewolves: they remind us of our animalistic side, and we fear the regressing to the instinctual need to feed regardless of humanoid emotions or consciousness. Zombies: they remind us of the power of the masses, an allegory for the social side-effect of popular opinion and sheepdom, no thought or individuality involved, with deadly consequences. Vampires:... sex. Really? Is that all vampires are good for? Repressed eroticism? It has to get better than that, no?
Unfortunately, I wasn't quite sure. Honestly, I've liked vampires the least of the horror monsters. Although they embrace a wonderfully gothic feel, Vampires are old news. You barely need to start Angelina's name to know that you'll get more eroticism from this summer's "Wanted" than you'll get from Vampires sucking each other off. It seemed there was no way to really bring the Vampire into today's new era of killer-bacteria and Danny Boyle Zombies. We're already enough of a over-sexed culture, we can't get our kicks so much from some cloaked figure tearing off a Victorian lass's neckwear and kissing her. That doesn't sound so scary.
Then, there's always a film that comes along and does something magical. It makes old things new again. It redefines the genre, it retells the tale, it replaces elements to make you think in a new way; you see with new lenses on the camera. Suddenly the world looks entirely different.
Thomas Alfredson's "Let the Right One In" does just that. Now, that's setting the expectations a little high, agreed, but the vampire has never received a transfusion as lush as this movie provides. "Let the Right One In" expertly combines the vampire tale with the drama and confusion of the coming-of-age romance. It's tricky territory, but in the end, one is left breathless, marvelling at how a story with so much blood and nasty violence could give way to such a sweet and sentimental whole.
"Let the Right One In" is about Oskar, actually. The mortal. He's a pale-as-ice 12-year old Swedish kid living in a Stockholm suburb in 1982. It's boring, it's reclusive, it's cold. His parents are divorced, his mother seems to be a little harsh for the most part, and he is absolutely terrorized by bullies in school. At night he dreams of taking violent revenge on his tormentors and scrapbooks news articles highlighting violent acts. One day a new girl movies in next door. Her eyes are the size of dinner plates, her hair is black as night, and she smells funny, but one night they start talking in the playground. Although Eli, (pronounced Ellie), says she can't be his friend, she keeps the conversations going and coaches Oskar in bravery. Before long, the two of them have a significant friendship, although it's caked more with mystery and a taciturn don't-ask-don't-tell agreement that makes it all the more supremely innocent. As everyone watching knows, Eli is actually a vampire, and has been responsible for a striking string of murders that have been happening in the town with victims attacked, sometimes strung upsidedown and bled, necks broken. The question is whether love is strong enough to forgive a killer.
Director Alfredson treats the extraordinary like it can be found on your doorstep. Eli's eyes reflect in the dark, she climbs building walls, but only in the background of a wide shot, and keeps her flying to a minimum of just between third story windows. Still, if she needs to, and she does need to, she strikes with a sharp hiss and deadly precision, movements defying her pre-teen body with slight, unsettling modifications. It's no picnic and no joke; Vampirism is a terribly dysfunctional and lonely life, consisting of constant alienation, murder, theft, and nomadism.
What's incredible about this film, aside from the strikingly white snowy locales, the dreamlike shifts in extreme close ups and focus, the sounds of unnatural throaty growling, or the expertly placed soundtrack of lone guitar and desperately depressed strings, is the complexity of the relationship between Oskar and Eli. Is Eli really capable of loving? What exactly does their relationship mean, considering she's sexless? The vampire is of indeterminate age, so does she still have a twelve-year old mind, or does she know better, always one step ahead of Oskar's slow maturation into this world? What's heart-wrenching is that Oskar needs Eli terribly, but in finding a vampire as his only friend, Eli ultimately dooms him, taking his life, his home, and his innocence. But are such losses worth it in the name of friendship? And is loving a Vampire ever "true" friendship?
It's a strange, open ended question to ask people that haven't seen the film, but the conundrum plays itself out alongside vampire myth, if you remember that the classic Vampire usually required a Familiar (a human guardian).
"Let the Right One In" is a stunning genre mesh; it has the blood and the gore, and a few shock and awe points to satisfy those that came for a ride. They will be shockingly surprised to find an incredibly multilayered story of the choices these young children make, and the effects they may have ring through you far after the film has ended. Playing out like snow on thin ice, the movie is soft but dangerous, taking you on a real journey of consciousness the entire way.
The vampire is renewed, and I have been bitten -- I mean, smitten.