Beauty is in the eye of the beholder (or the beer-holder, depending where you are at the time) but it’s rare that everyone can agree on what makes something beautiful, especially in movies. Beauty can stand as the be all and end all but what will suffer in that scenario will be something equally important, like the substance of the story. Getting that balance right when so much effort has been put into the visuals is such a difficult task but so worth it when it pays out. If it pays out.
Let The Right One In (2008) is set sometime during the early 1980’s in Sweden and focuses on a 12 year old boy called Oskar who is living a somewhat troubled life dealing with divorced parents, bullying in school, and increasing isolation from the world around him.
One night some new neighbours move into the flat next door, a middle aged man and his young daughter. The new neighbours keep very much to themselves and it quickly becomes apparent that all is not as it seems with them. The father goes out one night and murders a passer-by, stringing him up by his ankles from a tree and draining the blood from the body into a large container. He is disturbed before he can complete the job and flees without the blood.
Meanwhile, the daughter befriends Oskar, in the process revealing that she’s about as odd as he is. She is reluctant to let Oskar know too much about herself, not even her age, which she gives as “twelve… more or less”. Oskar and the girl, Eli, grow close and an innocent romance of sorts begins between them.
More and more strange attacks take place with Eli’s dad the main culprit until one night where he is stopped from killing a young man and disfigures himself with acid. Eli’s true nature as a vampire of advanced years is revealed and now that she has lost the services of the human (not actually her father) who was feeding her she is forced to fend for herself on the local inhabitants, all the while developing her relationship with young Oskar.
Let The Right One In is a beautiful film. The quality of the cinematography is amazing with each shot meticulously laid out and presented to the audience just so. But, while most people bang on about that aspect of the film, it’s not enough to cover the fact that Let The Right One In isn’t a great film.
The pacing is incredibly slow with the first two acts of the movie dragging on far too long with little or no activity pushing the story along. The fact that it’s a foreign language film definitely doesn’t help either as there are several visual and cultural components that are impossible to pick up on if you’re not Swedish. It took me about 45 minutes to figure out it was set during the 1980’s as I unfairly assumed that maybe Sweden is part of the world that time forgot (in my defence I’ve never been there and no bugger all about Sweden… actually, that’s not so much a defence as it is a poor reflection on our education system).
The romance between Eli and Oskar is supposed to be strange, I suppose, but it’s very strange, like there’s a subtext about sexuality here that I just didn’t quite get. Vampire tales, when they’re done right, are sensual in nature, often promoting the ideals of eternal youth and how attractive that would be. But when the youth in question is stuck at age twelve there’s something off about it, it’s rightly disturbing as the vampire is much older but trapped in a young body. This was addressed well in Interview with the Vampire as it dealt with the character of Claudia, but in that instance we had the benefits of the other vampires and a narrator to point out the obvious failings of very young vampires.
Once you question this premise of the film you get into a little trouble. When a vampire is trapped in the body of a twelve year old should we assume that their mental development continues? Are these adults in everything but body? If so, does that make Eli’s attraction to Oskar something un-natural (beyond being a vampire, of course)? And if mental development does continue what does that mean for adult vampires who progress (I won’t say “live”) for hundreds of years? Do their personalities develop into a higher form due their extreme age? These are difficult questions to answer as who knows what you’d find in the mind of a vampire, and that’s probably why the makers of Let the Right One In didn’t attempt to deal with any of these issues.
The problems with sexuality continue in the film and on more than one occasion I found myself growing concerned that there was going to be a paedophile element to the story that would destroy the highbrow atmosphere that had been established. There are uncomfortable scenes where young children are exposed to the camera, again without much use to the story, and one scene of extreme nudity that makes the viewing very disturbing. As a device to put the audience on edge it works but it’s gratuitous, and unpleasant, and un-necessary.
The way the vampire element of the film is handled is truly excellent, with all the components of the myth intact – reflections missing, exposure to sunlight being very bad, and the necessity of having to be invited into a place being front and centre. The makeshift coffins Eli arranges for herself are very clever too as is the fact that she starts to smell bad when she hasn’t fed for a while. And that’s the overall problem with Let The Right One In. It’s too clever for it’s own good!
The setting in the 80’s, the way things aren’t explained through exposition, the loyalty to the vampire story, and the ages of the main characters all make for the components of a great movie but Let The Right One In feels uncaring. The film leaves a lot to the viewer to figure out and it gives you the time to do it but in no way does it ever feel like the film-makers give a shit if you figure it out or not.
One other problem that has to be addressed is that Let The Right One In isn’t one bit scary. The horror in the film is wrapped up in the horror of Oskar’s situation as a victim of bullies and a broken home, and in Eli’s situation as a teeny-tiny vampire girl. Not all horror is about making you jump to be sure, but the issues in this movie are common place (well divorce anyway, child vamps not so much) and so not even all that thought provoking, never mind horrific. Still, it looked amazing.
One Thumb Up and One Thumb Down for Let The Right One In.
You Let The Right One In, The Right One Out. In, Out, In, Out, check these if there’s any doubt: