Let The Right One In Film Review

by Shirley Mak

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I had the opportunity to see Let The Right One In, the Swedish vampire film that recently won a bunch of awards at several film festivals, including the Rotten Tomatoes Consensus Award (when I last checked, it had only ten reviews but all of them were positive, giving it 100% on rottentomatoes.com) and Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival.

I didn’t know much about it going in – I didn’t even bother to watch the trailer, partially because I feel like a lot of trailers these days give a misleading impression of the actual movie, probably for marketing reasons more than anything else – but I must say, Let The Right One In is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in a long time. Watching it reminded me not only of how much I love vampire films, but also of how much I love foreign films, and not just because they contain wonderful subtitles that keep you better on par with the basic plotline.

I like foreign films because they tend to deviate from the typical blockbuster clichés that Hollywood loves to spoon-feed us. Even though many (okay, most) of the horror scenes in Let The Right One In were rather campy and purposely outrageous, their flawless execution made them entertaining to watch on-screen. I don’t know, maybe I have a thing for vampire movies, but my usual dislike for slasher flicks (or gratuitous violence for no real purpose other than to shock the audience) was momentarily suspended when I watched certain scenes last night. Although in hindsight the movie itself was by no means a slasher film and thinking back on it, most of the serious violence occurred off-screen anyway.

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The cinematography and casting were both really well done and I loved the actress who played Eli, a 12-year old vampire. There was just something truly alien about her that drew the audience in – maybe it was in the way her eyes would change colors depending on the lighting in the scene (sometimes they looked completely black, other times a midnight blue) or how she looked so young but sounded and smiled like someone who’s seen the ways of the world. Whatever it was, this actress pulled off the role tremendously well. Her sophistication in the movie made me wonder how old the actual actress is, so I tried Googling her afterwards but nothing really came up (a downside of watching non-mainstream movies).

The romance in the film was a good offset to the dark undertone as well – not too overboard but still a good backdrop for the story that unfolds. I remember one reviewer on rottentomatoes.com comparing it to Twilight (you can read it here), the international bestseller also involving vampire-human romance that’s coincidentally going to hit theaters soon, and I was somewhat irritated because when I think of Twilight, I automatically think one-dimensional.

Stephanie Meyer doesn’t ever really show Edward gnawing on a human’s neck or describe what his face looks like right after he’s had a meal (not very pleasant, unless you enjoy the sight of blood). In Let the Right One In, vampires are savages, serious predators who aren’t afraid to hunt and destroy in order to survive (and when they bite you, it hurts), and the filmmakers don’t shy away from showing it – all of it. At the same time, the savage nature of the typical vampire is also heavily nuanced, as in one minute I was thinking, “Man, that Eli girl is downright VICIOUS!” (Does the fact that I say this somewhat with a sense of glee make me a bad person?) and another minute: “Oh, poor little vampire girl… She desperately needs a hug.”

Needless to say, I think all things worth watching should have nuances of gray in what seems to be a black and white situation. I refuse to see things purely in black and white for the same reasons why I dislike the blockbuster genre (as a general rule – though there are certain blockbuster movies I enjoy): 1) It’s predictable, which often leads to boredom, and 2) It’s not realistic. Now by realistic I don’t mean realistic in the sense that it could happen in real life as we know it today – this would totally rule out any sci-fi or fantasy potential, which are two genres I’ve grown to really like. But realistic as in: Can I see it happening in an alternate universe where all things are possible and yet, somehow life still makes sense at the end? It’s a paradox, I know, and I’m not so sure I understand it myself. But it’s like that one Nietzsche quote:

“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”

Now replace “love” with “movies” and that’s what I mean when I use the word “realistic.” Not every detail in a film has to make sense in the long run (although the ones that do are usually good films), but when too many of the details don’t make sense, or are just plain absurd, the sheer lack of coherency, as well as lack of believability (in the same loose sense that I’ve been using these rather concrete terms), makes the story annoying rather than endearing.

Now this is not to say that I don’t enjoy a little absurdity every now and then, because I do (I really liked The Science of Sleep, for example, and half of that movie went right over my head. The style of Requiem for a Dream was also appealing for the same reason. And don’t get me started about The Dreamers). I just don’t like walking away from a movie feeling like the filmmaker made it just because he could, that he made the movie because he’s a filmmaker and that’s what filmmakers do. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. If you’re going to do something, make some effort to do it well.

To some extent, I believe in Oscar Wilde’s philosophy, or the notion that “all art is useless,” simply for the sake of being art, but still, that art should mean something to you at the end of the day. It should mean something to its audience. There’s nothing worse than taking the time to experience something, whether it be a movie, a book, or a song, and feeling completely indifferent about it afterwards. I’d much rather hate a movie than feel indifferent about it. I would rather think, “This movie sucks because of this or that” rather than, “I could have spent the last two hours doing something else and it wouldn’t have made any difference at all.” Now that’s sad.

Speaking of which, that’s sort of how I felt when I read the last Twilight book, Breaking Dawn. I read it because it was out there (and yes, my curiosity does often get the better of me, for better or for worse), not because it offered anything particularly innovative or worthwhile. The writing started off terrible. The story became terrible. And the characters all reverted into mere caricatures of themselves – in other words, without nuances and subsequently without likeability.

So please, don’t compare Let The Right One In to Twilight, of all things. For me, it gave off a more Interview with a Vampire vibe than anything else.

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