Image a detail from movie poster for Robert Reinert's Nerven, 1919
I like jarring movies - ones that lull you into a certain rhythm or set of feelings and then pull you somewhere else unexpectedly. Some people don't go to the movies to be provoked, and that's perfectly understandable, but I like the challenge of it. For instance, this last weekend I saw a goofy comedy about tragic mental illness and a warm, gentle horror movie about flesh-eating vampires. I'll probably write something about Observe and Report later this week, but I want to write about Let the Right One In first because I've been thinking about it a lot since seeing it.
Let the Right One In is a Swedish vampire movie based on a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who adapted the novel for the screen. Our protagonist is the friendless 12-year-old Oskar, who lives in a miserable apartment complex in wintry Stockholm with his divorced mother. He spends his days imagining revenge on the school bullies who torment him and looking forward to visits with his father, a recovering alcoholic who lives out in the countryside. Oskar's life is disrupted by the appearance of Eli, a girl about his age who has moved into an adjoining apartment with her reclusive father-figure Hakan. Eli develops a strange friendship with Oskar, gradually revealing to him that she isn't a normal girl at all. The two main characters' desparate parallel struggles for survival make a compelling storyline against the frigid backdrop of Sweden in winter.
It's a jarring movie, though. The plot has a deliberately measured pace and stillness to it that makes the scenes of supernatural violence more disturbing. Let the Right One In has only a couple moments of actual graphic horror - the anticipation and muted urgency of every scene is far more disturbing. The two children are presented and portrayed with an intimacy that makes it hard not to connect with them, giving the climax and conclusion a poignancy that is not what it seems at first. I don't want to give anything away, but I am more and more upset by the movie's ending as I continue to think about it. And this is because of the movie's other real compelling aspect - it plays by a set of very specific and formal rules. Like most movies, the vampires in Let the Right One In work under a set of conventions, but this movie never tells you what they are. Everything is implied, right down to the familiar rule suggested in the film's title, and the implications are a very serious part of the movie. Director Tomas Alfredson never really tips his hand, making Let the Right One In a great movie for comparing notes with friends afterward.
Let the Right One In has gotten some press lately for the fact that its DVD release has different (supposedly inferior) subtitles to those in the theatrical release. I have no basis for comparison (I didn't catch it when it was in theaters), but I didn't see anything glaringly lacking in the English version of the dialogue. Future printings of the movie will have the better subtitles included, but I would say that the current DVD release is well worth watching as it is. Why wait? Experience something jarring today.
"Vampire" by Sebadoh