“The Non-Crying Game”

Let the Right One In is the anti-Twilight.

True, it is a vampire movie.  True, it deals with themes of alienation, powerlessness, revenge, and love.  That’s pretty much where the similarities between the two movies end.  Let the Right One In takes its vampires and the emotions of (pre)pubescents seriously, soberly, and painfully.  No emo, no overwrought angst, and no surface or trite ideas about what romance/love is.

Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is lonely, an outcast from his own family, as his parents have separated with neither seeming to want him.  His alienation doesn’t end there, as his school life finds him the object of a bully’s attention; a bully who travels with a posse of fellow miscreants who nearly drown Oskar in the school pool.  He finds love and revenge through Eli (Lina Leandersson), a beautiful but peculiar girl who turns out to be a vampire; who has been 12 for over 200 years.  The two being the painful adolescent dance of courtship, slowly falling in love.  From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Twilight, the aspect of the several hundred year age difference between our romantic leads is often glossed over.  Yet here, in a testament to just how good this movie was, the relationship is amazing, tender, and sensual, with the creepiness quotient amped up by never letting the audience forget that we’re dealing with twelve year olds.

The movie was largely bled of color, the Nordic visuals reduced to stark whites.  All of the characters are pale to the point of transluscence, with an eerie, ghostlike quality to them as if they aren’t fully there.  The movie’s sound is every bit as terrifying as any visual element, from the jarring rumble of car to the sound of blood dripping into a jug to even the desperately hungry sound of licking.

“May I come in?” –Eli

Different stories can enter us and become a part of us.  A lie can get in and shape us.  It’s one reason why we have to be careful about the voices we let speak into our lives.  We can run from bullies or stand up to them, but we can’t become defined by them (in terms of fear and/or hate).

“Thanks for another evening steeped in friendship and merriment.”

Watching Eli and Oskar’s first moments together, we observe outsiders trying to reach out and connect with ever-tentative, awkward steps.  This dance of connection, their escaping the pain of being alone, perfectly captures the cruelties of youth.

The vampire trope works best when it’s symbol for something else.   In the movie’s vampires, we have an encapsulated portrait of the loss of humanity.  In this case, vampirism  stands in for the  isolated, broken, those outside the mainstream; forming communities and bonds, set apart, to fight against their sense of alienation and isolation.  They have an inner emptiness, a hole of relationships, which leaves them with an ache.  A hunger.

“I must be gone and live; or stay and die.” –Eli

We’re broken and not as we should be.  We’re often reduced to vampires of relationships:  preying on community, living on its fringes, using people to fit our own needs and wants.  We’re prone to building walls, becoming things of cold beauty, not letting people in to know us.  Always running away, never settling down or developing roots.  Not realizing that our hunger stems from being caught up in the Trinitarian dance of relationship.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the heart of the life of God, and we’re created in His image.

“Be me for a little while.” –Eli

Directed by Tomas Alfredson and written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on his novel (a Swedish film, in subtitles rumored to be on the fast track for an American remake), Let the Right One In is a perfect example of horror in the ordinary (quite reminiscent of the horror at the heart of Stephen King’s Carrie).  Chilling, devastating, and heartbreaking, it manages to encompass the terror of adolescence.  The (pre) teens are unconventionally Pretty. And Awkward. And Violent. And Uncomfortable.  And Beautiful.  And Haunting.  There is an additional element of creepiness not quite glossed over in the movie, but better appreciated if you’re familiar with the book.  Let’s just leave it at the fact that these vampires did not sparkle.