Sunday, June 14, 2009

The right one

You know what I love about a good movie? It gives you so many different things to think about. And write about.

And so, I'm going to combine into one post the several ideas that occurred to me last night as I was revisiting Let the Right One In, the amazing Swedish vampire movie from last year. Don't worry, I'll try to keep it short.

Warning: Mild spoilers to follow.

Don't default my language for me!

One of the most dispiriting telltale signs about American movie-watching habits was the default language option that arrived with our DVD. Instead of being Swedish with English subtitles, the default option was dubbed English.

Now, it's possible that this setting was just retained from the last person who watched the DVD. I can't be 100% certain how these things work.

But if you have to have a version of Let the Right One In spoken in English, just wait until next year, when the inevitable Hollywood remake hits theaters. I was going to say "inevitably awful," but I may give this one a chance -- it's directed by Matt Reeves, whose Cloverfield was one of my favorite films of last year.

For the sake of argument, let's say this was in fact the DVD's default setting. That's kind of absurd anyway, because anyone who would seek out a Swedish vampire movie -- especially one that doesn't concentrate on being scary -- or would even be aware of its existence in the first place, would probably not want to watch it dubbed. Any serious film fan can't stand the sight of words not matching up with lips -- unless you're watching What's Up Tiger Lily?, that is. It's a sure way to take you right out of the mood of a picture, and in Let the Right One In, mood is everything.

One creepy kid I can take

The single laziest trend in horror films is the "creepy little kid with dead eyes who doesn't talk/act like a little kid should talk/act." This kid can be male, but by a consensus of Hollywood hacks, female seems to be more unsettling.

On the surface -- the very shallow surface -- it might seem like LTROI just continues this trend. The difference, of course, is that 12-year-old Lina Leandersson is actually an actor, not just a horror prop. This girl is downright scary, but by that I mean scary good. She strikes all the right chords of ferociousness tinged with melancholy, fragility bolstered by fortitude. And this story is actually about her -- not really the case in movies like The Grudge and One Missed Call, where you're supposed to be freaked out by the concept of an innocent perverted by the demonic, as part of a random cavalcade of "disturbing" images. She's this weird little stringy-haired slip of a girl, almost gothic, and it's impossible to take your eyes off her. (And I don't mean that in a weird way).

The most similar role to hers in film history is that of Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist, but I think Leandersson's performace is even better than Linda Blair's. It's subtle, layered, tragic, yet somehow strangely optimistic as well.

The thrill of not knowing

Minor spoilers ahead

Another thing great movies do is leave some of what happens up to your imagination. But it has to be the right things, not things that leave you cursing the filmmakers for their gaping holes.

Let's take the man who lives with little Eli, the blood-thirsty "12-year-old," in a suburb of Stockholm, doing her ghastly bidding for her. He's got to be in his late 50s, but that's all we know about him for sure. When he's in the hospital, Eli tells the admitting nurse that he's her father, but we're not sure if we're really meant to believe that. It seems more likely she says that to adhere to the relationship society expects them to have.

So who exactly is this man? It's open to debate. It could be her father, and I must admit I spent most of my first viewing thinking that. Upon second viewing, I now think that seems like the least likely option. More likely is that it's the grown incarnation of a boy she once seduced when he was "her age," devoted to her and either unable or unwilling to leave her, even after more than 40 years as her "assistant." Making it seem like this is the same thing that could happen to Oskar, her next-door neighbor in the apartment complex. Or, if 40 years of that life would be too intense for anyone to withstand, maybe this man is the latest in a string of pedophiles she's lured in and then used for her own purposes. You don't know. And that's the brilliance of it. You could debate it for years.

Score one for the score

I'm trying to be better about noticing music in movies, and I couldn't help but fall in love with the simple piano score composed by Johan Sodergvist. It's plaintive without being maudlin, though I should say, the guy who reviewed the movie for my site did use the word "maudlin" to describe it, so there's clearly a difference of opinion on this. (Though I should say, that was also the guy's only real complaint about the movie.)

Just say "no" to digital cats

What's interesting about LTROI is that many have suggested it's what a vampire movie made by Ingmar Bergman would look like. Sure, that's because Bergman is the most famous Swedish director of all time, and this is a Swedish film, but it's true that the style really is similar. Plus, the film is washed over with a gauzy filter that makes it look at times like it was filmed in the 1970s.

Both of which make it all the more unlikely that the film would be capable of some really interesting digital tricks, and a couple truly mind-blowing shots it would be a shame to spoil here. I'll just leave it at this: It takes you a bit by surprise how effective these shots are, especially since the rest of the movie doesn't feel "modern" -- in the worst sense of that word -- in any respect. (The action appears to take place in the 1980s as well, though that's not certain).

There's one notable exception: The digital cats. There's one scene that (I think) is supposed to be funny, where a bitten woman undergoing a transformation is attacked by a bunch of cats who see the vampire within her. First they just hiss and howl and go erect into attack mode, but then they're actually all over. It's hard to tell whether it's intentionally or uninentionally funny, but let's just say that was the only moment when I was almost taken out of the film and transplanted into Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties.


If you haven't seen Let the Right One In, I don't know why you're tying up the top of your Netflix queue with something else.


Don Handsome said...

I have seen Let The Right One In, but recently (as you know) put it on my Netflix queue. After reading your summary, however, I moved it up so I'll be getting it again within the week.

What I like about this movie is the shades of grey that exist around every character. In typical vampire movies you get nearly full histories of at least one character - the vampire. The vampire is old and therefore has "lived" a rich life and it seams like the default move to tell their story - or at least the legend of their story.

I love LTROI because you don't get any history or context. The vampire is essentially dropped in - or I guess more accurately carted in - to this dark suburban (I think) working-class setting. She is accompanied by an older man who takes care of her and she befriends a young boy. That's all you get.

The vampire makes some vague references about her past, but this only builds intrigue instead of defining her. Your imagination must fill in the rest. The same can be said for the older man (as you've already discussed - incidentally, I think I'm now leaning towards the pedophile theory, but that's just because its the latest theory I've heard on him). And the boy...well he's a barrel of laughs too. I just don't know what to make of him...has he been sought out for his certain tendencies and predilections or is he an innocent caught in the Vampire's spell? Is he a victim or a beneficiary? Its all up for debate, which is what makes this little film so great.

While most Vampire movies focus on the broad strokes involving rules (i.e. the effectiveness of garlic, crosses and holy water) this film focuses on the nuance...and while it provides virtually no answers, it certainly provides insight and a lot to talk about.


Don Handsome said...

One more thing I meant to mention in my previous comment. I know that its been trendy with many folks I know to read the book that Let The Right One In is based on. It is my assumption - though I haven't raised this idea with the folks I know who have read the book - that more answers are provided in the book. I'm not sure how I feel about this. As I've stated, I believe that the charm of the movie is the answers it does not provide and I'm not sure I'm ready to give up that mystery in favor of answers that may tarnish my feeling towards the film.

Any thoughts on this? Can books ruin movies?

I'm sure that even if the book doesn't ruin this film, the remake (and having Matt Reeves at the helm provides me NO solace what-so-ever as he hasn't proved that he can be subtle) will. I'm pretty sure that Hollywood won't be comfortable leaving all three major characters in the film open for debate and interpretation. Ugh.

Vancetastic said...

Interesting consideration about the book's role vis-a-vis the movie. I can tell you that the guy who wrote this script adapted his own book, so you'd hope that he'd see the same mysteries as interesting in a screenplay as he would in a book. Given the script he gave us, I guess it's up to us to trust him.

Yeah, I don't know about the Hollywood version. We'll just have to see.

I should also have credited you with being the originator of some of the ideas in this post -- thanks Don.