16.4.09

Let The Right One In

Film critics are a jaded bunch, it seems to me. It's not really their fault - they have to sit through a lot of awful movies. So when something so strikingly original as Let The Right One In comes along, the near universal praise is unsurprising. I'm not sure the film quite deserves this level of hype. It's very good, but it's not amazing. Peter Bradshaw gives a fine summary of what to expect here.

That said, the idea propelling this film is inspired. The girl-vampire Eli completely dominates Hakan, her middle-aged father/lover. She needs his support, but it's clear that she is weary of his failures. He is old and useless, and she ends up consuming him. A disturbing picture of filial or romantic loyalty, wouldn't you say? This is in some respects counterbalanced by Eli's new relationship with Oskar. He is captivated by her. She protects him from the sinister boys who bully him, and she provides an escape from his unsupportive parents and the early-80s poverty he lives in. But there is a disquieting undertone to all this. She is initially attracted to, and works to encourage, his revenge fantasies. We are also very aware of her capacity to manipulate - the way she tricks her prey by pretending to be hurt. Her risking death by entering Oskar's home uninvited is an overt demonstration of her devotion, but in fact she almost forces Oskar to accept her by playing on his infatuation and good nature. That scene ends with her straddling him, demanding that he see the world through her eyes. It looks an awful lot like a brainwashing.

I'm not saying that Eli doesn't love Oskar. If she didn't, she would have simply taken one of the many opportunities to kill him. It's just that her love for him, as her burnt out love for Hakan, is vampiric. She eats away at her lovers until nothing of their former lives remain. The love between Eli and Oskar is sweet and moving, but it always retains a sense of tension. This is most brilliantly captured in the scene where they kiss. The action is obscured, and we fear that Eli may actually be sucking Oskar's blood. By the end of the film, the two elope into a Bonnie & Clyde existence. This would be a comforting romantic happy ending, except that we have already glimpsed a foreshadowing of the couple's future - Oskar's fate may well be the same as Hakan's. Love can be both achingly beautiful, and savagely destructive. You have to let the right one in (see what I did there?).

Not amazing? That sounds pretty great to me! Well yes. The problems come when the film gets involved with the lives of a bunch of secondary characters. Granted, some of the most off the chain moments involve this group, but they are a distraction from the love triangle at the heart of the piece. They could easily have been cut out. Also, on a personal note, the arthouse letting-the-camera-do-the-work approach is effective and creepy, but I dislike equivocation. I wanted the film to be blunter and more in-your-face disturbing. I hear Hollywood is already planning an English language remake. If they don't chicken out of the pessimistic take on love which is the centre of this fairy tale, we may end up getting an even better film than the one the Swedes have made. On the other hand, how likely does that sound?

Hey Joss, if you're not doing anything...

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