let the right one in

Favourite Films on Friday: #19, Let The Right One In

As befits a film about vampires, there’re a lot of dark corners in Let The Right One In. Yes, real, danger-concealing ones too, but metaphorically speaking. Something will be alluded to, but never explained. It’s full of empty spaces for your imagination to fill, as it inevitably dominates your thoughts over the next few days. This vacuum sucks up everything nearby – the other version of the film, the little I know about the original book, the speculative conversations – so that going back and actually watching it, it’s strange to be reminded no, that’s not in this film or that never gets explained. By not explaining, or even dropping bigger clues, to some of the ideas it flirts with, Let The Right One In holds its mystery. And as Edward Cullen taught a generation of teen girls, being mysterious makes you cooler and more attractive to everyone. Plus it speaks with a Swedish accent and in subtitles. That wobbly sensation is your knees going weak. It’s a good looking bit of cinema, too, every bit the equal of RPats’ goth-pale chiseled features. Almost every shot feels considered, making the most of its setting- 1980s suburban Sweden in the snow, which feels as exotic and, yes, mysterious as any location ever committed to celluloid. Everything is beautiful, but just a little ugly at the same time. The two children at the centre of the story are perfectly chosen, treading that same line. There’s something repellent in the fragile porcelain features of Kåre Hedebrant’s Oskar which helps sell the character as well as being simply fascinating to look at. At the heart of all this is a very simple story, of Oskar and Eli, two children – just on the cusp of that word still being an acceptable description – meeting and bonding. A coming of age story, with some very sinister additions, as is only right for that vulnerable confused time. Girl meets boy, but girl is actually vampire and boy is slightly emotionally disturbed. And so, under and around this relationship, other things happen: some of them clear, some of them obfuscated. Serial killings, bullying, a man losing his best friend and telling his wife he now has nothing. These events all cast shadows, to be probed lying in bed awake after the DVD is safely back in its box. Shadows like: “I’m not a girl.” This is the biggest cause of speculation and if you haven’t seen it, skip this paragraph please. The whole film has sexual overtones, undertones and run-clean-through-tones (and the novel allegedly much more so) and so the gender confusion fits right. The glimpse of Eli’s crotch is the moment that stuck in the collective memory when I first saw Let The Right One In. It’s an example of that ugliness, of the sex-horror, and one of the rare times I’ve been genuinely shocked by a film. And, again, memory plays tricks. Rewatching it, the moment having built to infamy, its momentariness and simplicity was shocking. All these little mysteries and questions aren’t really important. It doesn’t matter whether Oskar’s father is gay, or an alcoholic. It’s all just an implied history that lends weight to the film’s world; fodder to keep the film alive in your memory after the credits roll. It’s refusal to answer the question just keep all the mythology stripped back, so the central relationships at the centre can shine more cleanly. Everything else is just shadows.

The Right One?

Let The Right One In is the title of a Morrissey song. Let Me In is the title of a song by Jefferson Airplane. Let The Right One In starts with a troubled young boy stabbing a tree with a penknife. Let Me In starts with a horrifically acid-burned man being rushed to hospital before killing himself. Let Me In gets to all that later. Let The Right One In is a 2008 Swedish film about children & vampires. Let Me In is a 2010 American remake about vampires, and children. And that’s about all there is, in terms of differences. Names may be changed to protect the (not so) innocent, bits are shuffled around, but they are almost exactly the same film. Startlingly so, in fact. Scenes are lifted without change, dialogue is spoken straight from the original subtitles, shots are duplicated with unerring precision. It is, in every sense, a remarkably faithful adaptation. And yet. The film might, possibly, be an incredibly clever extension of the vampire metaphor. If you reanimate a corpse, perfectly, can it ever truly be the same person? It stretches this into the very body (the attractive, if strange-smelling, body) of the film itself. If two films are made of the exact same material, are they really different films? Can they ever be the same film? Annoyingly, I’m unsure. It’s easy to say ‘oh, it’s not as good as the original’. That’s the line I’m sure thousands of people will be muttering as they emerge from screenings this weekend; it’s the line thousands more have had pre-prepared for months. And it’s true – the addition of unnecessary special-effects and the few tiny tweaks to the plot make a slightly weaker film – but that’s all a bit too tidy, don’t you think? It’s definitely true to say this is one of the most pointless remakes I’ve ever seen. It’s simultaneously true that it’s one of the best. When it has the conviction to be a little different, the film begins to find itself. (A lesson we should all take from the last few years of adaptations, by my reckoning. See also: Scott Pilgrim, Watchmen, Kick Ass…) Two car-set murder scenes are, as far as I can remember, the biggest departure from the original. The second, especially, with its beautiful symmetry and all-mixed-up-tension is stylish, satisfying and smart. It contains the one intentional laugh in the film, shows some directorial flair, and opens up one the film’s big questions a bit: is it okay to sympathise with monsters? It is the film’s breakaway moment. Memory is a key thing in all these judgements, so allow me to add a quick disclaimer: it has been over a year since I last watched Let The Right One In, and my perceptions of it are warped. A few conversations and a quick Youtube hunt prove that bits I thought were silly Hollywood add-ons were actually in the original, along with at least one other scene I have zero recollection of. Because all that matters, really, is that snowy courtyard and a frozen climbing frame area and two children, slightly too old for their surroundings, talking nervously. And Let Me In got that down, perfectly. In my memories, at least, Let The Right One In is a masterpiece. Let Me In … isn’t a bad copy, actually.