So now that you've watched the best vampire film ever to come out of Sweden, let's talk about it. It is time once again for the Horror Squad Movie Club discussion. This week, we are taking a bloody bite out of Let the Right One In. I love this film so much and I very much hope that you had a similar reaction. But even if you didn't like it at all, please jump in and deposit your two cents. There are no worthless opinions...except those of Brad Mchargue. Just kidding Brad. Also, I failed to mention this in the introduction piece last week but there is currently a Blu-ray of Let the Right One In available with the theatrical subtitles intact. If you recall, that was my biggest gripe with the way this release was handled. To its credit, Magnolia does do an amazing job distributing great films that might not otherwise see the light of day. It doesn't hurt that a good number of them premiered at my favoritest festival of all: Fantastic Fest. But yes, just look for the "English theatrical" listed under subtitles on the back of the box to be sure. Alright gang, put on your snow boots and don your giant sweaters. Let's do this!
Setting out to create a wholly original vampire story is an uphill struggle. Especially in today's climate, the well has been almost completely tapped and we are being force-fed the dregs. But Let the Right One In, based on the novel by John Lindqvist, manages to turn convention into creativity; monsters into metaphor. I feel it is imperative that I admit right off the bat that I have not read the book. I fully intend to, and eminently, because from what I've heard, the book delves much deeper into not only the emotional constructs of these characters but their personal histories as well. This should come as a surprise to no one and I only mention it to provide full disclosure on my ignorance. Have any of you read the book?
I see Let the Right One In as a parable about growing up. It's not just a de facto product of the film being told from the perspective of 12 year-old Oscar, but rather is tightly woven into every aspect of the plot. Oscar lives in a world where he is savagely bullied every single day. He is also fascinated by true crime and makes a hobby of collecting newspaper clippings of grisly murders. In other words, he is not horrified by blood and gore, because the true terror in his life is...his everyday life. That makes him the perfect companion for Eli, the young(ish) girl who moves in next door and happens to be a murderous vampire. But the film itself is more about young Oscar's growing affection for Eli than it is the carnage she perpetrates.
The relationship between Oscar and Eli is not only the heart of the story, but also what makes this such a beautiful film. Let The Right One In is also a parable about first love and how incredibly scary it can be to suddenly have a swell of powerful, foreign emotions. The fear is manifested physically by the vampire violence in order to draw the parallel. I think that is my favorite aspect of the film and the thing that not only makes it so relatable, but also so heart-warming. Even after Oscar finds out what Eli is, and even though he is presented with the caveat that she might not even technically be a girl, he still loves her. Their relationship is so interesting because she is fully aware of the reasons they cannot even be friends and yet she finds herself as drawn to him as he to her.
This movie is absolutely gorgeous and seeing it in HD on the streaming only enhances the painstaking efforts by director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema. The way darkness is used is especially interesting in Let the Right One In. This is country of bitter cold and on a blustery winter night, the sky gets remarkably black and seems to sever Oscar's apartment building or his school from the surrounding world. It makes it seem as if this movie takes place in a nightmare or on another planet entirely; aiding the tension in no slight fashion. I also love the shot of Eli climbing the hospital wall because they do such a good job blending her with the shadowy precipices until the nurse turns her back. Then, as she scurries up the side of the building, the camera never pans over or zooms so her vague form is distantly scaling the wall. It's an incredibly effective, incredibly creepy shot that is of the more memorable of the film.
The Pool Scene
Speaking of amazing scenes, I would be more than a little remiss if I failed to discuss the swimming pool scene. When the older brother of the bully, whom Oscar finally stands up to by cracking upside the head, decides to enact some revenge, he bites off a little more than he can chew. The great thing about this scene is, while it's the most intensely violent moment of the entire film, we see very little. The restraint of the director to stay focused on Oscar, struggling to breathe as the bully holds his head under water, while giving us just enough clues that a reckoning is unfolding on the surface is fan-damntastic. I think my favorite part would have to be the pair of legs that enter the shot and go soaring through the water as if something jet-propelled has a hold of him.
The unexpected result of this scene for me is that when Eli pulls Oscar out of the water, I well up a bit. The exchange between the two of them, the way she looks at him, is very touching. It serves as an interesting juxtaposition to the rest of the scene that serves merely to slake my bloodlust. I think this is a testament to the greatness of this film; being able to display so much heart even in the darkest moments. In that way, Let the Right One In very much feels like an Amblin horror film or The Orphanage. If nothing else, the backdrop of the turmoil of adolescence definitely smacks of Spielberg.
Herein lies the most compelling fodder for debate. The ending of the film, where Oscar is riding on a train with Eli in a box to shield her from sunlight, is arguably not a happy ending. Sure, he gets the "girl" and he is happier in that moment than we had previously seen him in the film, but what are the implications of that scene? He is clearly running away from home which, while neither his mother's nor his father's abode offered much in the way of comfort, his parents are good people and his flight from them is less than warranted. But that's really not the contentious point of the ending.
At the beginning of the film, Eli is moving into the empty apartment with an old man whom we first assume is her father. Then as the film progresses, we realize this man is little more than a slave to her who goes out and harvests her blood supply via serial murder. It's not even that she can't hunt for herself (as we find out, but simply that she would rather have him go out and butcher people just so that she risks no exposure...and he gladly does it! It is clear from their relationship that Eli has a magnetic pull, a puppet-master influence on any man on whom she sets her sights. There are little moments peppered throughout the film that suggest that this man, her slave, had a stunted development and may have in fact been a child when Eli wrangled him. Is Oscar condemning himself to a similar servitude? Or has their relationship, and the purity of his love, altered her methods? One possibility makes the ending a sweet, satisfying, fairy tale conclusion; the other a nightmarish, ominous, and tragic finale.
The word itself seems to have become profanity. I count myself among the many that have a severe mental block against remakes and especially remakes of films I love. When I heard there was to be an American remake of Let the Right One In, I nearly chewed off my own jaw. I could not imagine how anyone would be able to recapture the splendor and grimaced at the thought of the film instantly losing that certain otherworldly quality should the setting be changed to something more culturally familiar. I was incensed and outraged...until SXSW.
At this year's fest, Horror Squad papa bear Scott Weinberg moderated a panel of horror directors that included Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) who has been charged with remaking Let the Right One In. I sat there, arrogantly expecting him to plead his case to me, ready to rip him apart. But as he spoke, at length, about the deeper meanings of the book and how they so eloquently spoke to his own childhood experiences, I got interested. When he talked about begging the studio not to remake the film even while they were offering him the job, I was impressed. And when this novice director talked about meeting Spielberg and instinctively seeking his advice on directing children (instead of, you know, "holy crap you're Steven Spielberg!), I was sold. If anyone was going to do this, Matt Reeves has my complete confidence.
Ok, I'll shut up. So, what do you guys think?