Friday, September 24, 2010

Second Age Reviews: Let the Right One In

I like foreign films. Not always, but as a rule they generally offer a unique perspective, if nothing else. Take the vampire movie genre for example. Stateside, vampires are huge right now, but in the wrong way due primarily to the success of the bafflingly popular Twilight series of books and movies, and thus most people trying to horn in on it's success are following the Twilight formula. The formula consists in broad strokes of mostly defanged vampires, sappy romance and poor writing, as well as a complete disregard for the general rules of the vampire mythos.

As such, in January when Daybreakers hit, movie geeks rallied very briefly around it, hoping that some success on it's part might bring the much maligned monsters out of the shadow of Twilight, but was not to be. What I guess they hadn't heard is that the Twilight phenomena never really landed over in Europe and thus when Sweden decided it wanted to make a vampire romance movie it was the quietly brilliant Let the Right One In, which thankfully has all the vampire rules intact.

The plot is based around the character of Oskar, a smart, quiet and bullied 12 year old. In the opening scenes, Eli (pronounce El-lee, not Ee-lie) a girl of about the same age moves in with her father next door to him and soon they are close friends, exchanging messages in morse code through the wall to each other. What the movie quickly reveals to us, though not so quickly to Oskar, is that she has a bad case of vampirism and after her father fails to bring her blood, she is forced to leave the safety of her home to search for it on her own. This kicks off the hardworking B-story, devoted to a man named Locke, who through coincidences, has most of the people he's cares about killed by Eli.

The part about the vampire rules being intact isn't an exaggeration either. Despite being mostly a romance and VERY slow building, the film is overall one of the most true to to the rules vampire stories since Buffy went off the air. Drinking blood and red eyes are both there and the film turns a beautifully literal version of “bursting in sunlight” and even a fantastically visual spin on the oft-forgotten “vampires can't enter unless invited.”

One of the most interesting parts about the movie is the characters. Far from the soulless bloodlust found in many modern vampires, Eli seems to want to resist her need for blood and comes close to showing regret after one murder. Oskar on the other hand is far from the shrinking violet human character. While he may be physically weak, hints at wanting bloody revenge against his bullies and obsession with violent news articles seem to paint him as not being entirely stable himself. Special mention also goes to Eli's father, a minor character by all accounts, but one who gets fully fleshed out in his mixed devotion to and fear of Eli in the short amount of screentime he has. All of this is held together by an admirably unique spin on the vampire romance and a fantastic overall screenplay.

Another notable thing, at least to film buffs, is the cinematography. Cinematography often gets ignored or outright neglected outside a Coen Brother film these days, but it finds a home amidst beautifully bleak simplicity, the kind we see in Fargo. The makeup guy is clearly giving a lot of care and attention, mostly into painting blood on people's faces and applying makeup to make Eli look constantly tired. But he gets to shine in one scene regarding a...unique way Eli's father used to avoid identification upon capture. I don't want to ruin it though, you have to see it to believe it.

As I was considering this film on the ride home, I tried to nail down a major flaw that I wanted to discuss. But really, I can't think of one. The actors are all well cast and doing a good job, the screenplay and story are wall-to-wall good, the characters are interesting, the cinematography is gorgeous, even the soundtrack is well written and placed. Some American audiences might complain that it's often slow paced, but I found that really gave the story time to breathe. Overall, it's a fantastic movie. What keeps it from the upper eschelance of films in general and foreign films in particular, is a broad lack of any higher ambition. It's not aiming to be a genre defining masterpiece like Seven Samurai or a triumph of artistry and storytelling like Pan's Labyrinth. It aims to be an exceptional entry into the dead in the water vampire franchise, a good story, well told with intelligent symbolism. And in that case, it succeeds admirably.

Oh, before I go technically, there is an American version of this film called Let Me In out in a couple weeks. I usually shy away from advocating for or against a film, but in this case I'd like to ask anyone who's reading this to please ignore it. I can't think of a single American adaptation of a foreign film that was worth a damn and this one looks particularly crappy. So if you have the option, please just...stay home, Netflix the original version. I virtually guarantee you'll get a better product. Alright. See you next time.

Next on Second Age Reviews: Evil Dead 2

Elessar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he'd really like to ignore the upcoming Buffy movie to.

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