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Food and Blood

April 17, 2009

First off, I’ve been meaning to link over to my friend Jenni’s amazing blog. Jenni’s a pastry chef, and her blog is one of the most enjoyable ways to kill a diet I’ve seen. As an added bonus, she’s a really good and funny writer. “Thou shalt not read the Bible for its prose,” perhaps, but with Jenni you can have your cake and eat it too, as it were.

I also wanted to rave about a film. I realize I’ve been talking about vampires a lot lately, but frankly it’s one of the themes I work with, and I love it. So I won’t feel guilty, and you’ll just have to deal.

I’ve seen a lot of vampire movies, and frankly many of them are extremely bad, or at least laughable. I did like Twilight the movie better than the book, but it didn’t take much. And overall Twilight’s sanitizing of familiar vampire tropes coupled with its insidious undercurrent of domestic violence and weak main character (I can’t think of a worse role model for our young girls) doesn’t really go away in the movie. We are just spared the excruciating tedium of being in Bella’s head for hundreds of pages. But to call anything about Twilight “horror” (other than Robert Pattison’s hair or the gaspingly dramatic reaction Bella has near the end when Edward suggests going away from her) is silly. Meyers’ vampires have been stripped of any threat, and thus have lost all the power the tenacious monster held for hundreds of years. Twilight is Wuthering Heights with fangs, and mightily blunted fangs at that.

10009663But it doesn’t have to be that way. This week I finally saw last year’s acclaimed Swedish vampire coming-of-age film Let the Right One In. This film does something I didn’t think was still possible–it balances the attraction/repulsion concept at the heart of the vampire myth without sacrificing either. That is, we are given a relationship between twelve-year-old Oskar, a lonely outcast from a broken home, and twelve-year-old Eli, a lonely vampire who moves in next door, that completely captures the essence of the vampire. As an audience, we sympathize with Eli and like her nearly as much as Oskar does, but we are also privy to the reality of being a vampire, which is that vampires are serial killers whose existence depends on humans dying. There is no “vegetarian vampire” cop-out here. Eli, although quiet and serious, is a likable twelve-year-old girl, and Oskar is understandably drawn to her. But Eli also kills with bloody grace and ease, and this fact is not hidden from Oskar, who is put off at first but gradually overcomes it.

At one point in Let the Right One In, Eli tells Oskar that she’s twelve, but that she’s “been twelve for a long time.” The film inadvertently overlaps here with Edward’s similar statement in Twilight about how long he’s been seventeen. And it’s here that the two films are most sharply contrasted–whereas Edward’s line is a self-conscious “what a clever writer I am” moment, delivered in the embarrassingly melodramatic tone that characterizes everything Twilight, Eli’s line carries a weight of sadness and self-awareness (as opposed to self-consciousness) that says worlds about her long existence and her understanding of her place in it. This is partially because twelve-year-old Lina Leandersson is twice the actor Robert Pattison is, but mostly because writer John Ajvide Lindqvist (adapting his own novel to screenplay) has constructed a narrative that works on every level. The weight of what comes before gives Eli’s statement its emotional heft, just as lack of weight robs Twilight‘s counterpart line of anything beyond soap opera schmaltz.

I don’t want to say too much about this film, because I want you to see it. It’s a hauntingly conveyed story that needs to be experienced. It is difficult to do something new with the vampire genre–in the twelve years since Buffy no one really has–but this is at least the freshest presentation of the old tropes that I’ve seen in many a year. It is also difficult to make a film as beautiful in its imagery and storytelling as this one and keep it a horror film, but Let the Right One In does it. There is blood (quite a lot of blood), and there is at least one special-effects set piece. In places it is scary and in other places distinctly uncomfortable, both of which are necessary for a successful horror film. But at its heart is a friendless boy on the edge of adolescence and the bloodthirsty little girl who loves him. It’s that narrative, recounted through perfectly constructed scenes and just-right dialogue, that makes this not only the single best vampire movie I’ve ever seen, but one the best films of any kind I’ve seen in the past ten years.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 17, 2009 7:01 pm

    Jamie! I had no idea until today that you were reading my wee blog! Thanks for saying Nice Things about it. I like to think that I’m a pretty good writer, and it’s so lovely to hear it from a friend who is “in the biz” as it were:)

    Now that I know you’ve got your own corner of the Hinternets, I’ll be back. Wish you were still in the Carolinas. We just got back here from eight years in hell. Um, Florida.

    The movie sounds fantastic. It’s going on the Netflix list immediately!

  2. April 26, 2009 10:30 pm

    Watched the movie Saturday night. DVD wouldn’t let us have just subtitles, and we were forced to watch w/a pretty cheesy overdub. Let’s just say that a lot was lost in translation. Literally. I think we would’ve really enjoyed it otherwise. As it was, I thought that all the male characters were weak. I can only imagine the author/screenwriter wrote them that way on purpose. I’ve never before seen such a bumbling Igor character; his scenes had something of a black humor Fargo feel to them.

    The strongest characters were Eli and what’s her name that had the cats jump on her. They both did what they had to do, in their own ways. At any rate, would really like to see it in Swedish w/subtitles to hear the intonations and nuances of voice that were missing. It was like watching the original version of Iron Chef. Very disappointing, but with so much potential. Sigh.

  3. Jamieson Ridenhour permalink*
    April 27, 2009 8:28 am

    How disappointing. I’ve heard that the dub track is particularly heinous. I loved it with subtitles. I can imagine it makes a difference.

    I sort of see what you’re saying about the male characters, but I’d say that most of the characters are pretty flawed. Virginia (cat-covered woman) isn’t really strong or take-charge until the tragedy hits her. And Oskar’s mother isn’t a strong character–both his parents are distant and clueless.

    Do you think of Oskar as weak, completely? In the manner of most good vampire literature, I see Oskar as Eli’s double. They are mirror images of each other (even down to the inversion of hair color and skin tone). Eli points this out to him when he says he doesn’t kill people and she says that she knows he’d like to. I think the relationship between the two is fascinating.

    Point taken about Hakken (the Igor figure). But I think he’s supposed to be black humorish, and I think his failings are why Eli finally decides to dispense with him. His job quality, as it were, has been on the decline for a while.

    So, I may have lost you. But if you’re ever just bored and without something to watch, try it again on the direct-to-your-computer play option on Netflix. It’s subtitled there, and I think you’d see a big difference.

    • April 27, 2009 12:15 pm

      No, you haven’t completely lost me–I’m willing to give it a shot w/the subtitles. We were so disappointed w/the dubbing. Hope you never have to live through that!

      I’m afraid we both thought that Oskar was weak. So, he whapped that kid on the ear really hard, and that was all good, but mostly he just seemed very passive. At least outwardly. Internally, he was obviously planning Deliverance-type violence, but it was all potential violence that would never be realized, whereas Eli was kinetic violence. Not that she gloried in it. I appreciated that they treated her feeding very matter of factly–just a part of her day.

      This might be completely beside the point, but: Are we crazy, or was Oskar’s dad gay? We were catching some subtext there.

  4. Jamieson Ridenhour permalink*
    April 27, 2009 1:01 pm

    I think it definitely leaves the impression that his dad’s roommate is more than a roommate, but the director, in an interview, said he was surprised by that reaction. Apparently he just meant to show that the dad neglected Oskar if favor of drinking with his buddies.

    I though the same thing when I watched it, though.

    I see what you mean about Oskar. But your description of him as passive and Eli as kinetic reinforces my whole mirror images thing. It’s possible that my head’s still too caught up in Carmilla, though, which is richly overburdened with mirror imagery.

  5. April 27, 2009 4:20 pm

    Carmilla is on its way. Looking forward to the read and the footnotes. And the mirrors:)

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