Thursday, September 29, 2011

The No-Sparkle Zone

Films Lat den Ratte Komma In (Let the Right One In)
Format: DVD from personal collection on big ol’ television.

In the future, the ‘00s will be known in some circles as the decade that vampires turned lame. The Twilight series has done more to damage the reputation of bloodsuckers than anything else, although if I’m honest about it, I don’t see these books as the starting point for effeminate vampires. No, that belongs to Anne Rice and particularly the movie version of Interview With the Vampire. Vampires have always been somewhat sexually charged, but it was the portrayals by Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise that started the transformation from creepily appealing creatures of darkness to full-blown romantic characters.

So it’s nice to see someone try to bring them back. Lat den Ratte Komma In (Let the Right One In) is a step in the right direction. This is a real return to the classic style of vampire. The longing, and even nascent sexuality is present here, but the little bit of puppy love romance here is creepy and disturbing. That’s the way it should be.

We start with Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a 12-year-old boy who is being badly bullied. He dreams of revenge, and even carries a knife. Oskar has some issues beyond the bullying. He keeps scrapbooks of murder victims and police reports. In many ways, Oskar is sort of a serial killer in the making, which is entirely appropriate for where this film goes. As the film begins, Oskar gets new neighbors, a man named Hakan (Per Ragnar) and a girl (kinda) his age named Eli (Lina Leandersson, but voiced by Elif Ceylan). Oskar notices right away that there’s something odd about Eli; she sits outside in the winter without a coat, for instance. Eli is initially aloof, but Oskar continues to be friendly toward her.

We see what’s going on far earlier than Oskar does. We see, for instance, Hakan draining the blood from victims hung up like slaughtered farm animals, and when he is interrupted and must leave the body and much of the blood behind, we see Eli attacking her prey herself. It takes Oskar a little longer to realize what Eli is, but when he does, he is not repulsed by her. Instead, Oskar is attracted to Eli, and this is at least somewhat mutual. Eli appears to have some feelings for Oskar as well, and wants to protect him.

But this is surface stuff. I don’t want to get anywhere close to spoiler territory with this, though, because it’s a film that works on every level, and very little of it should be spoiled. What’s far more interesting is why this film works as well as it does.

For starters, Oskar looks like a victim. This kid is skinny and pale. Disturbingly pale. Edgar Winter raping a harp seal pale. It’s easy to see this kid as a victim of bullying because he absolutely looks the part. His main bully is a kid named Conny (Patrik Rydmark), who also looks the part. He looks like a young athlete, muscled under baby fat. When Oskar does strike back at one point, Conny recruits his older brother, Jimmy (Rasmus Luthander) to get back at the kid who no longer tolerated the bullying.

Another thing that works here is that Eli is both vulnerable and terrifying. In truth, she is not vulnerable at all, something she proves time and time again through the film, but she looks like she is. She rarely looks up, almost as if she is trying to hide herself and what she is even with those who know what she is. This is almost indescribable, but is quite effective because it gives her that look of a young, shy child. Except that when she does look up, her eyes are ancient. The vocal dubbing is also excellent and a great choice. Her voice carries the sort of weight that a child’s would not, and this lends additional weight to her character.

The film is also filled with fantastic details. At one point, she asks Oskar to invite her into his apartment and he refuses, wanting to know what will happen if she comes in without being asked. She does come in, and a few moments later begins bleeding from everywhere—ears, eyes, the top of her head. Her reaction is simply to stand and let this happen until Oskar, in horror, finally gives her permission to be in the house and the bleeding stops.

What also works is the budding sexuality of these two characters. Oskar is twelve, and isn’t quite sure how to create a relationship. Eli is hundreds of years old, but is still physically twelve, and is thus in the same position. There is a certain tension between them, but there is also a sense of camaraderie, like they are buddies who happen to be of different genders.

But what really makes this film work will spoil the film. So I am going to put up a spoiler tag here. If you’ve seen the film, read at leisure. If you haven’t you should really skip the spoiler and see the film first.

*** LET ME IN ***

It’s evident that Hakan has been with Eli for a long time. Eventually, when he is trapped with an attempted murder victim, he burns himself with acid, then submits himself to her as a last sacrificial meal. But it’s also evident that Hakan is jealous of her attention given to Oskar. It occurs to me that it’s entirely possible that Hakan has been with Eli for years—decades—and that he started out with a relationship with Eli similar to the one Oskar has now.

So, at the end of the film when Oskar and Eli are traveling by train and tapping love notes to each other in Morse code, there’s a sweetness, but also some despair. Oskar isn’t going to be Eli’s permanent love, and she probably won’t turn him into a vampire like her. Instead, he’ll be her protector for the rest of his life, will grow old like Hakan, and will eventually give himself up to her as a meal when she encounters someone new to take care of her.

So while it’s both terrifying and rewarding when Eli returns to save Oskar from his tormentors, the actual ending of the film sets up Oskar for a terrible life of longing, loneliness, and murder.

It's worth noting that I've called Eli "her" throughout because Eli is portrayed as a girl. When Eli says "I'm not a girl" repeatedly to Oskar, the initial assumption is that it's because Eli is a vampire. However, Eli is actually a castrati, which adds a whole new level of creepy.

*** LET ME OUT ***

This is as good a vampire movie as you are likely to see. If you like a good horror movie, don’t miss this.

Why to watch Lat den Ratte Komma In: Vampires the way they used to be and the way they should be.
Why not to watch: Violent child vampires are pretty creepy.


  1. have you seen the american remake, and if so, what is your opinion? haven't seen it myself, but it got surprisingly good reviews...

  2. I haven't. I've heard quite a bit about it (and it's currently streaming on NetFlix), but I immediately mistrust these insta-remakes of great non-American films.

    If the non-American film is so good it needs to be immediately remade for the American audience, then I'd prefer to see the version that's that good.

  3. If I were in charge of handing out awards for random things, you'd be getting one for your Edgar Winter line. Wow. Well done there.

    I'm right there with you on this. Absolutely loved it. It's funny how you think of them both as children but only later come to realize that it's a much more complicated relationship (or, disturbing). Or maybe you're aware of that and the film makes you forget until later. Either way, it's effective. I don't feel so bad for Oskar, though, or for the rest of the 'handlers.' They make that choice on their own and (at least initially) are enjoying themselves. Eli isn't seen as a monster holding them captive to do her bidding - sure, she can get angry, but they could probably leave her at any time if they so desired. It's a mutually beneficial relationship, at least for a few decades...

  4. Yeah, I think that's right on. I wonder about the possibility of Eli holding some sort of sway over them, though--Hakan is absolutely enamored of Eli throughout--willing enough to sacrifice himself.

    But sympathy? Not so much. Oskar never has to leave, but he chooses to.