Thursday, August 13, 2009

Review of the vampire movie "Let the Right One In"

Reviewers like to tell you whether a movie is good or not, and whether they liked it or not.

But you want to know whether you'd like it...or not. Why should you care what I think, unless you know our tastes are the same? And you certainly don't want all the surprises in the film ruined for you.

So I'll try to help you decide whether to see this or not, without spoiling anything.

"Let the Right One In" is, above all, a serious movie. The concept, the plotting, the cinematography, the casting...everything serves a serious purpose--something like a meditation on what it means to have to take others' lives to keep your own...and what it means to know someone in this position. Of course none of us are, or know, vampires, but at the deepest level we have all taken advantage of others to help ourselves in some way at some time. Except my spouse, who's a saint, of course, just in case she reads this!

There's also the moral complexity that comes with the fact that many people who do great wrong to others often have a tender side. The family man who's a serial killer, the concentration camp commander who's a great father to his own children, the poet/dictator. Others are just monsters 24x7, but most have some redeeming traits. And such people are far more interesting than the Leatherfaces of the world. Even Saddam Hussein wrote poetry and doted on this children.

There is enough violence in "Let the Right One In" to justify an R rating, but none is gratuitous, and much is off-screen, in the manner of a good Hitchcock suspense movie, rather than some gorefest. The blood you see is there for good reasons, not just to shock you or titillate you.

It was done on a low budget by Hollywood standards. The sparse special effects are good enough to advance the plot but they aren't going to wow you by themselves. The actors are not Hollywood-beautiful, though I think the casting is perfect.

The main characters are children--more or less--but it's not a film for children (unless they're unusually deep children, if you know what I mean).

It's also not a film for those whose moviegoing expectations are entirely based on big-budget Hollywood movies.
I'm not criticizing such movies--I've seen many & loved many--but this ain't that.

In particular, many moviegoers want everything explained. This film doesn't do that. It explains nothing, actually. Not because the director wanted to keep you in the dark...but because a lot in life goes unexplained. Someone cuts you off on the freeway, nearly killing you, then vanishes into the night. You never know why he did that, and you'll never learn why. There were reasons, but you're not privy to them.

That's what this film delivers. Mostly you see things through the perspective of a 12 year old boy, and rarely know more than he knows. And the children in the film don't deliver long speeches explaining what they're up to, why they're the way they are, yada yada.

One reviewer hated this film because nothing is explained. He couldn't accept the fact that not all kids are highly self-aware extroverted, eloquent chatterboxes. "Where did you go?" "Out." "What did you do?" "Nothin'."

These kids are average kids in non-average circumstances. So are the adults and other kids around them.

You might also be disappointed if you're looking for a hero to a admire and a villain to boo. This film has neither.

I loved the TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel." Those have heroes, and their stories are the stories of the hero's journey. Their central characters are physically beautiful, their dialog is witty and knowledgable and often poetic. And the production values (after Buffy's first two seasons, which were shot in grainy 16mm) are great for late '90s TV. However, "Let the Right one in" is really, really different from these shows, and I'm sure it's equally different from Twilight.

Actually, it's a gritty, realistic vampire film, oxymoronic as that may sound. The closest equivalent to it that I can recall is the underrated Jude Law film "The wisdom of crocodiles." Or, more distantly, the Japanese TV anime show "Vampire Princess Miyu."

Finally, a word about the casting. The 12 year old boy is the whitest white boy I've ever seen this side of an albino. He perfectly embodies the quirky loner he portrays. The girl is also perfect, and while she's not Hollywood-pretty by any stretch, she has huge, hypnotic eyes--almost like the kids in those wretched Keane paintings you see at tourist art galleries, next to the clowns and seascapes. I couldn't think of any child actor today or earlier who could play this crucial part better. She's as well suited to this part as Peta Wilson was to playing La Femme Nikita in the eponymous TV series.

The working-class Swedes around them look the part perfectly as well.

The film isn't set in any beautiful urban setting, like you'd find in downtown Oslo or Gothenburg. It's set in a sea of utilitarian apartment blocks in a nondescript town, with the action taking place entirely in a Swedish winter. It's the beauty of bleak.

I loved this film myself, but I don't want you to get it or watch it unless what I've said here suits you. If you do buy it, please manage the expectations of those you see it with. The pace is generally slow by Hollywood terms--necessary to generate the needed atmospherics. However, the story is linear, and ultimately not obscure at all except for not explaining how the people you see got there in the first place. So it's not hard to follow at least.

It has now been several days since I saw this with my brother, who had the same feelings about it as I did. The film has stuck with me. You know how some films you see then forget the instant the screen goes dark? This isn't one of those. It's haunting. I didn't actually figure out the true nature of the two central characters' relationship until the next day, after the film had percolated through my brain for a while. I won't say what that is, since I promised no spoilers. But it will send chills up your spine.

And here's one moment to look for. You know how vampires can't enter your home unless you invite them in? (hence the title of this movie BTW) Watch what happens in this movie when that rule is tested. You'll remember this scene for the rest of your life, and I'm not talking about gore.


Wavefighter said...

What an excellent review of this lovely movie. So much said about the atmosphere without spoiling anything. Like a brilliant consumer information. Kudos to you!

mr_fun said...

This movie was all about bunk relationships. All the humans had bunk relationships, besides which the human kid and the vampire girl's thing seemed refreshingly normal. At least they liked each other. Even though, talk about hopeless. They vamp girl was going to stay 12 forever and she didn't even have lady parts.

Just as "Buffy's" vampires were metaphores for a teen girl's chalenges growing up, so was "Right One's" romance between the human boy and vamp girl a metaphore for...well, I guess for the hoplelessness of it all. But at least you can go down with all flags flying.