Food and Blood
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.
But 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.