Sunday, 30 October 2011

Let the Right One

Warning! Risk of probable spelling mistakes!

Let the Right One In (In my case it was not this film)

Though I wouldn’t describe myself as your conventional horror fan I couldn’t say that I wasn’t; Horror and Science Fiction would be the most watched on a pie chart of my film time though it would be that self same pie chart that would reveal that my taste for gore and the macabre wouldn’t be in equal amounts to my taste for actual scares, I am more a fan of the old B-movie classics; Re-Animator, Evil Dead, Wish Master and From Beyond, which, though they are classed as Horror films, do not tend to be that frightening. It is because of this that I find the world of Horror films can be surprisingly closed off to me, gone are the classic frighteners like The Ring or Alien (simply because of the Facehuggers) to be replaced with films which are simply largely unheard of by my generation. Surprisingly, however, I did not find this closed enjoyment of Let the Right In off to me at all simply because I have another interest in movies- the foreign film. I enjoy watching foreign films and more so when they are subtitled so I found myself easily understanding and the film and appreciating it without effort. The language ‘barrier’ was no barrier to me at all (nor was the film particularly horrifying, in fact it struck me more as a’ coming of age’ story than as anything else). The only reason I did not enjoy the film was simply because I did not ‘like’ it, I didn’t find any of the characters sustainable sympathetic or likeable and I found the story not sweet but unpleasant, there is no closure as we know that though Eli has saved Oskar from the bullies she is bringing him into a life of overall misery and self imposed slavery- just look at what happened to Hakan! Also what about Oskar’s mother! She loved him and raised him yet he never trusted her enough to tell her about his problems and now has abandoned her without thought of the agony she will go for looking for her missing only son!
But I digress as at this point I am but to discuss how the general audience may be attracted to this film and not my personal feelings towards it. And so I will go onto its trailers appeal. My brother and I watched this film and both agreed we didn’t enjoy it; we then watched the trailer for it and felt quite differently. The trailer includes a very clever use of music, dialogue and silence.  It begins with a very piercing single note which leads into an eerie and growing piece of music, when the action begins (a montage of clips from pretty much every action scene in the film) the music grows in intensity and begins to stop and start accompanying the scenes on screen, this helps make the film seem more exciting or action packed. There is no dialogue, only sound effects such as the sound of Eli drinking blood and gurgling and screaming. This is interrupted when the music goes silent and we hear Oskar ask ‘Are you a vampire’ Eli replies and the music and sound effects take up again; this time the music is far more urgent, the screen goes black and the music stops, Oskar asks ‘Will you be my girlfriend’ then the eerie music starts up again to the sight of snow falling in the dark. This use of music building to a crescendo before falling again makes the trailer both exciting and spooky with its eerie single note. The use of Oskar’s final line being to ask Eli to be his girlfriend helps to capture the audience and encourage them to watch the film as we know that Eli is a Vampire, a ‘monster’ and a killer and we have seen flashes of what will happen if Oskar befriends her yet the character himself does not know, this is a form of Dramatic Irony which has been used for years to entertain and enrapture audiences. The film encourages the audience to see it in the cinema as it does not give a date of release for the DVD, the audience cannot risk seeing the film to far after everyone else has seen it, they need that boost in Personal relationships (Blumler and Katz) so as they do not know when the DVD will be realised they must go see it in the cinema, also the advertisement I watched was originally shown in a cinema so it was already advertising to movie goers.
Let the Right one in uses a mix of familiar conventions and uncommon ideas to intrigue and entertain both those who will be common to the genre and entice those who wouldn’t be. It focuses on ideas frequently explored in horror films, those of sexuality, isolation, alienation and vulnerability yet the monsters it uses to make clear these human frailties and encourage the audience to feel them are not in fact a supernatural monster (though like a lot of horror films there is a supernatural element- the vampire) but a ‘human monster’ in the bullies who torment and assault Oskar for their own amusement, and in Hakan in his willingness to coldly end another humans life and in Oskar’s father in his willingness to put aside his living breathing son so that he can drink. In this way it defies another convention making Eli- a tortured creature that kills only for nourishment and not for pleasure- a sympathetic character. Though this doesn’t mean the film doesn’t have its fair share of spurting blood and dismembered limbs, it is after all a horror film. Though unlike your average Stuart Gordon style horror film the gore and blood are rather down played with the scenes of violence mostly shot from a distance or in long shot so not as to emphasise the bloodshed, nor is the gore played up for laughs. Unlike the average horror film most of the core cast survive until the end- including the supernatural being which suffers pretty much no comeuppance to its murderous crimes and slaughtering of children across the country. In fact we are encouraged to be pleased that Eli has survived and is happy and can go on to kill and feed on more innocent people in the future! What a surprisingly upbeat ending! The upbeat ending isn’t uncommon for the horror film but most of the most memorable horror films will end with a shocker, suddenly it’s revealed the monster is not really dead! Or the killer can return! Or there’s another killer! Something along those general lines will suffice (don’t worry about being too cliché).
Being alone, isolated, alienated and vulnerable are all core ideas explored in Let the Right One in, right from the start we see Oskar’s separation from the rest of the world. He stands, trapped on one side of the glass looking out at the rest of the world on his own, he is dressed only in his undergarments emphasizing his vulnerability through his bareness. Outside the world is cold and dark and unwelcoming, we can see no evidence that there are any other children of his age who live near him. At school he is constantly alone with no friends to be with, he is bullied and tormented by the other boys in his class isolating him from other children of his own age. When Oskar goes to school he goes alone, he hunches his shoulders shrinking away from the world and defending himself from it. His clothes appear unfashionable, he is only seen as truly happy when he is with his father (though we see this happiness is only brief as we discover his fathers alcoholism and his willingness to choose drinking with his friend over his own son) and then later with Eli.
I first watched ‘Let the Right One In’ in class surrounded by other students, largely they seemed to think that the story was romantic, that Eli and Oskar’s relationship was sweet however I, and not only I, would protest otherwise. I think Eli is manipulative and cold, she in reality we know she will use Oskar until he can no longer serve her- just like Hakan who is not in fat her father but is implied to be a previous lover who acts as her father to avoid suspicion. She drinks dry Hakan and throws him from his window with little care or emotional response, considering she once loved this man like she loves Oskar and that he has cared for her his whole life I can’t see how this makes her a ‘romantic’ or ‘sweet’ character. Other viewers might see Oskar and Eli's blossoming adolescent love as something to be ‘awwed’ at or aspired to but they are forgetting that Eli is not in fact an adolescent, though she is trapped eternally within the body of a youth she is in fact far older, wiser and more knowledgeable that Oskar, she says herself she has been twelve a long time. Though it may at first appear they are going off into the sunset (or twilight perhaps would be more appropriate considering her ‘condition’) Oskar is in fact falling into the exact same trap Hakan did, he will become her willing slave, killing so that she doesn’t have to satisfy her in human thirst for blood. He will become a murderer, he will grow old and she will no longer love him and all he will have left is the desperate hope that he can stay with her as long as he remains useful. There will be no escape for him- and why? So that Eli doesn’t have to kill anyone herself- because she doesn’t want to. Just like Hakan he will have to watch as she pulls away from him and moves onto her next victim, like a parasite. I personally find nothing appealing about the character Eli, her ‘I don’t kill for fun’ act is nothing but an act, if she were truly opposed to killing once she had been turned into a vampire (a creature whose whole point is to kill) she would have ended her own life like Virginia did when Eli accidently turned her. Eli is a coward and a parasite and not a noble self sacrificing sad little girl who has innocently fallen in love.
Oskar is another character who is not quite what he appears, at first, I must admit, I felt sorry for him he was being bullied and ostracised form his class mates but then I began to notice something strange. Strange as in a scrapbook of killers, murders and knives. This is not the behaviour of someone who is mentally stable or of an innocent child who is just lonely and sad because he is bullied. Bullies will often pick on children who are alone or different, isolating them from the rest of the group like animals preying on the weak, like animals (and like all humans) they also will isolate and separate those who are dangerous from the pack. Though what Conny and his friends did is in no way acceptable (I cheered when they were rend limb from limb) it is understandable that they would attack the one who they could unconsciously see was dangerous. I quite strongly feel that Oskar would have been interested, even obsessed, with those things had he been bullied or not! Due to this, and die to how he so uncaringly abandon-his mother who was doing the very best to raise him alone- without thought of the suffering it would cause her, are my reasons for, watching the film for the second time, I have very little sympathy or pity for the character of Oskar.
Just as the characters do to particularly appeal to me nor does the narrative, though it is an intriguing idea I found it too slow for my enjoyment. The only part of the narrative that really appealed to me was that of the man who’s girlfriend and friend are killed, in the end this two came to a disappointing finish as he is just killed- again there seem to be very few consequences for Eli’s actions.
‘Love’ or a ‘romantic’ relationship between a human and a vampire is not an unheard of concept in the horror movie however the use of this relationship being between two children and the lengths that Eli is shown to be willing to go to to keep Oskar safe are unusual. She abstains from drinking his blood when his hand is cut; she kills the bullies to protect him and even steps through the door uninvited for his amusement and curiosity despite the pain that it causes her. Apart from in Twillight- which could hardly be described as horror- a vampire actually caring about a human enough to injure or endanger themselves for them is uncommon. The story could be rewritten to have Eli no longer a vampire, the easiest way would be to turn her into another supernatural being or a cannibal which would be the closest to her eating habits as they are now and would explain  pretty much all of the points covered in the film. If you were to take her out of this way of life completely however I think you would get a drastically different story, for example you’d either have to find some other way of explaining the need for the killing or just get rid of it entirely, Hakan’s relationship with her would have to be changed and so would her rescuing Oskar at the pool- a normal twelve year old girl could hardly drag a person across a pool and tear their head off.
Despite her Vampirism Eli appears very much like a normal girl, her like is shown as being surprisingly domestic and ordinary, the audience is aware that she is dangerous- she has after all killed people and will continue to do so- and yet is not encouraged to fear her. In fact I feel they are encouraged to like and support her as a character. She is not a monster she is a victim due to her illness just like all those she killed, not that she wanted to kill them in the first place! In some ways however this makes her acts of violence even more shocking as we have grown so easy in her as a character we have forgotten that she is a predator and a killer like any other of her kind. One thing unsurprising and common for a vampire is for them to have a consort- in Eli’s case her ‘father’ Hakan. Vampires often have human associates, usually those who aspire to one day become vampires themselves, who ‘find’ and ‘catch’ food for them eat and serve and protect them while they sleep. Just like an average vampires consort Hakan is shown to have an inappropriate level of affection/love for her, the level of adoration he shows for is of course completely inappropriate for a father but not for vampires companion/servant. Eli is in fact not so unlike her fellow vampires then as we so thought.
Our sympathies switch between Eli and Hakan throughout the course of the film, we feel sorry for Eli when he returns without blood for her- she is after all starving, and then feel sorry for him when she so uncaringly abandons him to spend time with Oskar (when he asks her to not ‘see that boy’ when he goes out to get her food we see the pain in his eyes as he knows that no matter that he asks she will not take heed of it, and the look of hopelessness in him when she strokes his face- a tender gesture but an empty one) and then again when she drains him and topples him from the window of the hospital. Hakan generally gets a bad lot of it in the film, burning his face with acid, being killed and having to watch as Eli is pulled away from him- of course when we take into account that he is a paedophile and that’s why he’s staying with her and helping her. Well. I’m pretty sure our sympathies don’t stretch that far. Just like all of the characters in the film we are constantly being thrown through hoops of emotions in regards to the characters, pity, sympathy, disgust, horror etc all of which helps to shape our idea of the plot. Going back to my previous point, just as I concurred that she was using him and that he would go on to live a life of servitude however through their viewing of the emotion and its effect on the plot they concur that Eli and Oskar will live happily ever after. So is the story perhaps in the head or the heart?