Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Film Review--Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)

Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)
directed by Tomas Alfredson
written by John Ajvide Lindqvist
based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist
starring Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Karen Bergquist, Peter Carlberg, Ika Nord, Mikael Rahm, Karl-Robert Lindgren, Patrik Rydmark

Sometimes friends bring you special gifts that utterly upset the balance and alter the course of your life forever. For twelve year old Oskar (Hedebrant), that present came in the form of Eli (Leandersson), a girl who moves next door to him and his mother. Eli is immune to cold, cannot hold a simple sweet down, and only comes out at night. Oskar, who is obsessed with horrific stories, ascertains that Eli is a vampire. Coinciding with Eli’s appearance are a series of gruesome murders involving great losses of blood. Although it takes a while for Eli to reveal her full Self to Oskar, she manages to keep him enthralled and utterly spellbound for a great length of time. Oskar is transfixed by Eli because she offers him more than any other person he has ever met including his mother. She’s daring and determined, two traits that Oskar lacks. He is a boy who dreams of revenge on the person of Conny (Rydmark), a bully who taunts him and calls him Piggy. Oskar cannot stand up for himself and suffers a series of humiliations including having a switch tear a gash into his cheek without him barely moving or saying a word. With Eli’s help he finally steps up and causes rather intense damage to Conny by whacking him in the ear with a long rod.

One gets the impression that this condition that has been foisted upon Eli is unwelcome. During one feeding she breaks down and sobs uncontrollably. There is an indication that she has the ability to transform herself into an adult sized vampire as is evidenced during one scene where she feeds in front of Oskar. She lifts her face and we catch a brief glimpse of a grown female caught in the ravishes of her deeply set passion.

Eli and Oskar forge a bond that tightens its grip as the film progresses. Knowing what Eli is, Oskar maintains his loyalty and refuses to reject her. It’s a delightful aspect of the film and elevates the story above the merely pedestrian to the level of high art. The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is as intoxicating as Eli’s vampire child. It employs muted tones that are exploited by the ubiquitousness of the snow. Rarely has wintertime looked so seductive and foreboding. The landscapes cause the heart to flutter slightly particularly when Eli and Oskar are out in it together. There is just something so fatal and enticing about their connection that it’s brutal potentialities drenched in warm blood play nicely off of the coldness of the pure white snow.

Eli’s father Håkan is shown early on stringing up a boy, slitting his throat and draining his blood. Later he kills a man and dumps his body in the icy river. These bodies are used ostensibly to feed Eli in between kills. We don’t really get very many scenes between Eli and Håkan although we do understand the link between them that holds them together. They are united by the blood that they drain from those unlucky enough to stumble into their paths when it’s feeding time.

The film is quite funny in places and it eases the tension from what is otherwise a terribly serious production. There is a scene with a woman who has been bitten by Eli. She begins to display classic vampiric tendencies including aversion to light and in one hilarious scene the antipathy of cats. She walks into a room where there is maybe a dozen or so felines. From the moment they smell her they go into full on hissing mode. Eventually six of them jump on her and she is brought down. It’s a startling scene because one doesn’t expect it to come in this sort of film.

Eli is a serious girl who comes off as exacting and pragmatic. She has a firm grip on the necessities of life and understands hunger and longing better than anyone Oskar has ever met. He too understands what it feels like to want something so desperately that it clouds the vision and nearly capsizes him. He simply craves revenge on his tormentors and play acts stabbing the leader by jabbing his knife into a tree. Eli advises him to stand up for himself and her coaching gives him strength. Indeed, her very being wakes Oskar so that he becomes harder, tougher and toward the end of the film more agile at taking control although this proves to be a short lived phenomenon.

It becomes apparent that Oskar needs Eli in some impenetrable way. She does the things that merely are forced to reside in his imagination. He admires her to a degree for her audacity but to her she has no choice but to act in this manner. He would kill out of rage but to her the killings are but a means to an end and are divorced from the anguish of emotions. In this light Eli is purely objective and not susceptible to the stains of familiarity which ultimately prevent most humans from taking another’s life. Eli suffers no such afflictions because she simply is not human. She has merely taken human form so that she might more conveniently track her prey.

The pulsating effulgence of this film makes for a thrilling experience that will not easily be forgotten. The novelty of a child vampire is an exquisite focus for a story that nevertheless turns out to be more about friendship than anything supernatural. It’s sad and supremely edifying to watch these two interact. They employ morse code to communicate through the wall that is the only earthly thing that separates them. But their bond is not limited by earthly things; it is purely of the spirit although one wonders if Eli has a soul. One might imagine that she does only it’s of a different caste than mere mortal’s souls. Then again, if the purpose of a soul is to ensure eternal life after death, why would a vampire need one? Eli is not evil because she doesn’t kill out of malice. She merely needs to feed and her very existence depends on these particular acts. To not feed is to commit suicide which for every being is not a natural option. Yet, she must always be on the move for reasons that remain somewhat mysterious in the film. Perhaps she cannot stay in one place because memory begins to take a stranglehold on her and memories are the very thing that tortures her the most.

Taking form in a twelve year old girl, the vampire sucks the life from life. It’s interesting that she is arrested for never more at the onset of puberty. Yet, the creature that lives inside her is ancient and knowledgeable about all things involving human sexual interaction. This would suggest that Eli would be awakened to the needs of the flesh and perhaps initiate Oskar into sacred rites. There is a scene fraught with erotic tension where Eli takes off her clothes and jumps into bed with Oskar. He turns away to face the camera and simply acknowledges that Eli is exceedingly cold. Of course sexuality at this age is considered anathema to nearly everyone but the suggestion still remains in this film that there exists a physical element to Eli and Oskar’s friendship.

There is a profound sense of loss in this film that permeates every frame. One cannot help but anguish over Eli’s plight as the curse of eternal life has beleaguered her and left her in an exceedingly fragile place. Lina Leandersson gives a decisively controlled performance as Eli. Her movements are precisely administered and each gesture carries with it a deeply melancholic intensity. She plays a wounded creature who knows that no matter what she does she will eventually lose Oskar just as she has lost everyone else she has ever cared about. Leandersson captures this aspect of her character with a tremendous understatement. She gives us a character who is both a monster and a scared little girl and it is this dynamic that most informs this, her first film. As Oskar Kåre Hedebrant projects an unresolved innocence that is nonetheless tempered with a curiosity about all things grotesque. He is perfectly able to accept Eli as a vampire because of his insatiable appetite for the macabre. To him she is merely his fantasies come gloriously to life and he clings to her for what she promises him. He would like to be like Eli so that he might finally be able to know what it is like to remove life from another quivering person. But he knows he must remain mortal and thus afraid of unleashing his innermost desires on an unsuspecting world. Hedebrant, also making his first screen appearance, brings a young man to the fore who could become anything at all. Perhaps under the right tutelage he might become a Nazi Skinhead or a political agitator. He is an open slate who can be influenced to do or go along with pretty much anything. He plays at being a leader but it doesn’t work out and the film clearly suggests that he will always be a weakling who requires others to extract him from tight squeezes.

Overall, this film is a buoyant and classic modern day vampire tale enshrouded in the primal mystery of absolute friendship. This is a story about two youths who find each other after all. Eli has traveled centuries and from distant lands in order to find Oskar. It’s as potent a romance as is ever going to be filmed. One intriguing aspect of the story is projected into the future where Oskar will age and Eli will remain the same age. If there relationship is perfectly chaste as children would it transform into something legitimately pathological as Oskar comes into himself? If love is lust deluded with sentimentality will Oskar’s love for Eli be eventually based on a different sort of animal need? Oskar’s undying devotion is fraught with terrible sadness because he doesn’t quite understand the implications of just what such a state implies about the future. He does not fully grasp the fact that they will become separated and that their bond will be severed. She simply cannot stay in one place very long and in order to keep her he would have to travel around with her until he dies. It’s a tragic realization and one that brings great sorrow to each in their own way. This film will remain one of the purest testaments to the tyranny of love and the cold reality that it will not and cannot remain to those unfortunate to suffer its base afflictions.

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