2008 saw two vampire novels turned into movies. You no doubt heard of Twilight, which was IMHO a lackluster version of a pretty damn good novel by Stephenie Meyer. If you missed it in theatres, don’t panic, it will be out on DVD in a couple weeks.
However, in my opinion, the much better movie was an independent Swedish film called Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in), based on the novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay. When this movie made the rounds in 2008 at various film festivals, it was played in Swedish with English subtitles. The DVD which was just released in the U.S. this week has the original Swedish dialogue, with options for English subtitles and/or English dubbed dialogue.
The movie is set in the stark, cold landscape of a Stockholm suburb in the 1980s, and tells the story of a 12-year old boy named Oskar. Oskar is constantly bullied at school and at night he contemplates his unrealized attempts to exact revenge. One night, a young girl named Eli moves in next door to Oskar’s apartment with an older man, Håkan, who is presumed to be her father, uncle, or grandfather perhaps.
In the beginning, Eli does not want to become friends with Oskar, but her lonliness begins to outweigh her concern for getting too close to him. It is eventually revealed that Eli is a vampire, and that Håkan is her daytime protector and also gathers blood for her. However, Håkan’s attempts are pretty feeble and he screws up his opportunities, providing some gory comic relief. The times that we find Eli hunting on her own are visually quite dramatic.
In one scene, Eli attacks a local woman but does not kill her. Through her we learn two facts: cats hate vampires, and sunlight will cause them to spontaneously combust. Both scenes are done with great care and style. You just have to see them; my descriptions will not do them justice.
One of my favorite scenes of the movie deals with the fallout after Oskar discovers that Eli is a vampire. At one point Oskar had invited Eli into his apartment, but later she wants to come in again and Oskar decides to revoke his permission and wants to find out what would happen if she tried to come in anyways. This has always been a lingering question I’ve had about this Hollyweird myth and I like the answer as given by the movie. Eli does walk into the apartment, but after a few moments, she begins to bleed from her eyes, nose, shoulder and chest, and it becomes obvious that she is being crushed. Oskar gives permission back to her after the violent display.
Through Oskar’s friendship with Eli, he eventually becomes more self-confident, and does get his revenge on Conny, the bully who gives him the most trouble. However, Conny brings out the big guns by getting his older brother Jimmy involved. The final confrontation comes when Oskar goes to an after-school program at his school’s swimming pool. Jimmy shows up and tells him that if he can hold his breath underwater, he and Conny will leave him alone. Oskar has no choice and the scene goes under water as Jimmy holds Oskar’s head down. The cinematography is brilliant, as there is a muffled commotion and we see one kid’s feet being dragged, splashing, down one side of the pool, a severed head and Jimmy’s arm falling into the water, followed finally by Eli pulling Oskar out of the pool.
The film is hauntingly beautiful, darkly disturbing and funny, and deeply emotional, ultimately laying out pre-teen fears of needing to be accepted for who you are. There’s only one scene that I didn’t really understand, where Eli is changing into a dress, and we can see that her naughty bits have been sown shut. The movie gives no explanation, but apparently in the novel there is more backstory where it is revealed that Eli is actually an androgynous boy and had been castrated many years prior. There are no deleted scenes on the DVD to explain this either.
I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. If you can find it in stores, I highly recommend you buy this movie. It can be slow at times, it’s pace likened to a glacier carving away a fjord. So if you are craving an action flick, or something with high-school angst, this ain’t it. That is why I enjoyed it, though, and I think you might as well.