Monday, September 27, 2010

Reviewing "Let the Right One In": A Study of Evil

Oskar is a lonely and bullied 12-year-old. Eli is the 12-year-old girl who moves into the apartment next door. They form a friendship over puzzles and Morse code. Except that, as Eli tells Oskar, she is not a girl. He must discover for himself that those puzzling words mean she is a vampire. Naturally, one cannot have a vampire in the neighborhood without missing people and murders, which leads to an interesting and telling sideplot about someone who is attacked but lives through it.

This is a Swedish vampire movie and, as such, is somehow completely Swedish with contemplative photography, neutral colors, and the square, Ikea-ish buildings. It is also somehow completely a vampire movie in the truest sense of the word with evil dominating everything once Eli shows up. That evil is expressed through gore that is also somehow completely in line with a Swedish movie because we are as distanced as it is possible to be from it. Much more immediate is the bullying that Oskar must endure, which is an interesting contrast to the unworldly vampirish sort.

At one point we had to pause the movie for some reason and I told Tom that this was not the "great movie" I had seen praised by so many. He said, "Well you can look forward to the American remake. They'll probably have an explosion or two to liven it up." I had to laugh ruefully. How true.

However, our appreciation of this film grew greatly through reflection and conversation as we put together the puzzle pieces more completely. In fact, I am now going to be curious to see the American remake because we all wonder if the Americans will not somehow find it irresistible to muddy the moral message.

It is definitely worth seeing for the artistry and for the unflinching examination of evil, our attraction to it, our own muddling of what we know to be right and wrong in order to grasp what we find attractive, and the fact that we have the power to turn evil away or invite it into our lives. Oh, and for the cats scene in the apartment. Definitely for the cats scene. Never have cats been so ennobled in the fight against evil.

Caution for viewers: Rated R. There is, of course, vampire induced gore and violence. As well, there is a one second flash of nudity (Eli's genitals). Scott Nehring at Good News Film Reviews rightly points out that this is child porn. However, and this is a big however, the moment when this happens is well telegraphed. We know Oskar is going to look ... and with that warning ... we can not look. I avoided plenty of this movie's vampire violence in that way and wish I had done so for that moment of nudity. Having read Scott's comment, however, I was curious though wary about exactly what he meant. He's right. It adds nothing except some disgust. Do what I say, not what I do. Don't look.

Further reflections upon the message ... with POSSIBLE SPOILERS
(I have tried to do this without spoilers, but for those who want absolutely no clue about the story then this is something to skip.)

Unbelievably, I have seen this called a tender and pure love story. That is far from the case, if we are seeing it clearly and sorting out all the evidence that we are given right up to the very end of the film.

It can be difficult to sort out the evil and our feelings because we see that 12-year-old girl and want to find some redemptive value in the friendship she has with Oskar. Again and again we are shown her monsterish habits and yet somehow still shake them off because they come in the sympathetic guise of a pretty young girl. This leaves us turning against what our brains tell us to be true as we watch victims lured to their end and instead relating to Oskar, who is at best emotionally stunted since he wants not just relief from the bullies but the ultimate revenge which he is too weak and afraid to exact.

At the end of the movie, we are left with the contrast between the actions of the attack victim who could tell what she was becoming, the fate of Eli's original companion, and the deliberate luring (some might say wooing) of Oskar. In considering the fate of Eli's original companion, we see what Oskar's fate is. That fate is not any semblance of love. It is the result of cooperating with pure evil.


EegahInc said...

Be warned, if the more rabid supporters of this film find this review, expect to be flamed, and flamed heavily.

According to interviews, the author of Let The Right One In intentionally left things ambiguous so that you could interpret the story both ways, either as two heinously abused children finding hope in one another (Eli is actually a castrated boy posing as a girl, hence the brief flash of nudity to let you in on that secret), or as a former abuse victim carrying on the pattern of abuse and grooming his/her next victim. Both meanings are in the story, but I've found on message boards and other blogs that those who see the horror in this HORROR movie are often viciously attacked by those who have some emotional investment in the more hopeful interpretation.

Here's hoping you get spared some of the more vile comments.

Julie D. said...

I think that is what Scott Nehring found when he reviewed it some months ago. Thanks for the warning, but I would say that it is then all to the director's credit if that was the original intention. I'll just have to take my chances. :-)

I have spoken to various nonreligious friends of mine about this movie. All loved it. All also saw it as an unambiguous view of evil. So, if that was what the director intended, perhaps it worked only for the Swedish viewers.

Scott Nehring said...

Yeah, the fan base gets very pissy and aren't all that good at argument. The nudity is poorly handled and unnecessary.

EegahInc said...

You're probably right, Scott, they most likely could have handled the gender issue narratively instead of visually. But that wouldn't have been as SHOCKING and cutting edge.

That's sarcasm, just in case it didn't come through.