Monday, May 10, 2010

Let The Right One In

Spoilers ahoy!

In several months time, an English language adaptation of the Swedish novel Let the Right One In will open in theaters. Written and directed by Matt Reeves of Cloverfield fame, the film has a slightly different title--Let Me In--and stars Chloe Grace Moretz of Kick-Ass and Kodi Smit-McPhee of The Road.

They have a lot to live up to. Last year a Swedish adaptation of the same novel won the devotion of many fans, including yours truly. I easily placed it on my list of "Ten Best Vampire Films Ever Made" and will probably remain there.

Forgive me while I gush.

In the early 1980s, a lonely twelve-year-old boy endures the attention of bullies. Oskar is precisely the kind of child who attracts such predators -- sensitive, intelligent, with a morbid imagination. He dreams of revenge, of lashing out against his tormentors. One night, a man and his daughter move into the apartment next door. Soon after, Oskar meets the daughter, Eli. Unwashed and strange, she stands in the snow without shoes and doesn't seem to notice the cold. Strange murders soon have the town buzzing, but at first no one connects them to the stranger and his "daughter." No one but Oskar. He figures out that his one true friend, the girl he has come to love, is a vampire.

A film simultaneously similar yet totally different from Twilight would be difficult to imagine. We have a romance between a human and a vampire--but instead of teens, they are children. Oskar isn't this shy, secretive figure everyone finds attractive. He's a weirdo, trapped in a situation (divorced parents, neither of them really understanding him, no friends) pretty much guaranteed to twist him into an unhappy, violent adult. Yet enter Eli--a reluctant but ruthless monster, who sees in Oskar perhaps an echo of herself. Her other half? A soulmate? That is what their relationship more-or-less becomes. Other, crueller vampires? No. The other monsters in this film are not undead, but very much alive. Anyone who ever had the dubious honor of tasting a bully's attention, at precisely the time in life when one is most vulnerable, least able to cope, should be able to sympathize. More, there is another monster. Eli's father/keeper, Hakkan--his precise relationship to her remains ambiguous. But he will certainly kill for her, does do so. And more. My own impression at the time was that here was a pedophile who'd fallen in love.

The love here is not saccharine. No classical piano pieces composed during sleepless nights. Eli does spend at least one night in Oskar's room--but not watching him. He asks her to get under the covers with him, and they simply snuggle the way children do (in many ways Eli remains a child, no matter how long she lives).

Another point of comparison/contrast--both films end with the vampire rescuing their love from danger. But Eli doesn't kill another vampire in hand-to-hand combat. No, she takes out human bullies who haven't a chance against her--the fight isn't the important point of that scene but her motivations. No "I must leave you to protect you" nonsense, but rather "I am here to protect you, and I always will be."

Both films are beautiful to see. LTROI however has the tougher job. The forests of the Pacific northwest are inherently lovely to behold. Not so a barren, planned suburb of Stockholm during the winter--dingy, uniform, lacking history and showing it. Yet somehow those barren lines and stark shapes become beautiful. Just as (leading again to the heart of this story) the feelings between a murderous child and a nascent serial killer make for a startling love story.

Coming from a theatre background, the thought of another film version of such a great story bothers me not at all. Lots of actors get to portray Cyrano de Bergerac, Ophelia, Willy Loman, Emma, etc. Why not Eli and Oskar (renamed Abby and Owen for the American version--relocated to New Mexico during the Reagan years, a time when we looked always outward for darkness, rarely at ourselves--part of Owen's dilemma as explained by writer/director Reeve).

Go out and see the movie. Or read the book. Or both. And get ready for the new version, for which I have high hopes.

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