Saturday 22 August 2009

Let The Right One In

So, time for my pick in the Rycroft-vampire-film-cultural-exchange (I think we need a better title than that) and it's almost the mundanity of the setting that sets this film apart from others in the genre. Tomas Alfredson's film (released as Låt den rätte komma in in Sweden) is set in Blackeburg, a concrete suburb of Stockholm, in 1982. Thick snow blankets the urban landscape, deadening the sound, the first few minutes of the film close to silent. Twelve year old Oskar lives with his mother in an anonymous block of flats. He is lonely, bullied and seems to suffer with a constantly streaming nose. He dreams of revenge, playing with a knife and reciting, in true Travis Bickle style, what he would say to his attackers if he only had the courage. But we sense that he never will. He then meets Eli.

Eli is a curious creature, appearing almost spectrally as the camera pans across the estate play area. In the tradition of vampire films it will be a while before she is unveiled as one but the signs are all there. She can only come out at night, she doesn't eat, cat's seem to have a problem with her. . . oh, and she has a companion who knocks out strangers, hangs them upside down and then taps their blood for her. The film's title plays on one aspect of vampire lore: that vampire's cannot enter a dwelling unless invited in; and the film is dotted with other examples which look all the more extraordinary given the very ordinary setting of the film.

What the film is really about though is the relationship between Oskar and Eli, why they both need each other, what they can give each other, the boundaries beyond which love can be pushed. The darkness in the atmosphere comes from the banality of the strains and stresses in the human world. Oskar comes from a broken family, is a victim of bullying, other characters seem to be leading fairly drab lives fuelled by alcohol. Even when bodies are found there is very little alarm until one of the block's residents spots something from his balcony. I had to sell this film as a fairly non-gory thriller in order to get my wife to watch it at all and I think I was just about right. The film manages to build tension and release it without the standard horror tropes and it is very far from a gore-fest. The subtlety of the set-up combined with the sudden moments of attack make it a very adult thrill, whilst saying something genuinely interesting about children entering their teens. Film of the year so far for me. My wife? She still prefers The Lost Boys.


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