Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Release date: 2008
Låt den rätte komma in, to give the film its Swedish title and can I point out just how long it is that I have been waiting to bring this to you on the blog. Still unreleased, at time of review, in the UK – finally – due to the magic of international DVD sales and multi-region players (when are the companies going to get rid of that stupid regioning thing?) I can bring you a review. So let us get some of the controversy out of the way…
Subtitles... It has been widely reported that Magnolia Home Entertainment/magnet have dumbed down the English subtitles on this (and I rarely watch a dub if there is a subtitle to be had). I did not think that the subtitling made this unwatchable but, well let us say that I might have had… ahem… opportunity to see the theatrical release somehow and the subtitles do leave a lot to be desired. The review is of the film, despite the subtitles, and with full knowledge of the theatrical release – so, whilst the DVD is watchable, I seriously recommend that you wait for proper subtitling.
Next, let me just make my thoughts clear between this and John Ajvide Lindqvist’s book. I called the book an “excellent, innovative but highly disturbing novel”. The film is very different. Much is either left out or left unspoken and the horror level is dramatically culled as a result. I don’t know how the film would have faired with the censors should this have been filmed as per the book – I suspect it wouldn’t have reached the screens.
The book and the film are two different creatures and the book was a Naked Lunch moment, a disturbing look at what was really on the end of our fork, with a story of vampirism added to that almost as a counterpoint to explain that the supernatural was nowhere near as horrific as the darkness within the heart of man and society. In the film we lose the evils of child rape, domestic violence, juvenile crime, drug abuse and even the bullying is, whilst still poignant, less hard hitting than the novel. Even the gender identity aspects, whilst subtly referred to in the film, are avoided in the depth to which the book explored them. The film does, however, become a lyrical fairytale (I will expand) where our protagonist, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), is actually more sympathetic than his literary counterpart. Some of Lindqvist’s vampire rules are lost (namely around the nature of the infection) but the film does not lack for that. We begin with Oskar.
He looks out of a window and repeats about squealing like a pig… we later discover this concerns the bullying he is subjected to. We see a car, driven by Håkan (Per Ragnar) with the child passenger Eli (Lina Leandersson), Oskar sees them arrive at his building - at this point I have to refer to the book and state that whilst I saw Håkan as the most unsympathetic and disturbing of the characters, in the film he is almost (though not entirely, he is still clearly a child murderer) nondescript, showing the shift in emphesis. Oskar hides his knife under his mattress and can hear the newcomers in the apartment next door. A man, Lacke (Peter Carlberg), sees Håkan putting cardboard up against a window.
At school we see how Oskar is bullied by classmate Conny (Patrik Rydmark). The bullying aspect is there but, as I said earlier, I think it is less pronounced than in the book – that is not to say that it seems less unfair but that it is not focused on as much. In the evening Håkan prepares a case, there is a plastic bottle, a funnel, a knife and gas.
We see Håkan in the woods and we see him gas a boy. Then we see him winch the boy up, by his ankles, from a tree. In a scene that is disturbing as, beyond anything else, it is almost matter of fact, a plastic coat wearing Håkan slits the boy’s throat into the funnel to fill the plastic bottle. A dog happens along and, hearing the owners, Håkan runs off – leaving the bottle behind.
At the apartments Oskar is by the play area, he has his knife and is stabbing at a tree talking to it in a way that could only bring Taxi Driver to mind and the seminal scene in that movie. He is being watched by Eli. They speak and she says she can’t be his friend. When Håkan returns home she admonishes him, he is supposed to help her and she’ll have to do it herself. It is clear that she is the dominant part of the relationship.
The murder is headline news at school, counsellors are available. Oskar returns home and places a clipping of the murder in a scrap book that is full of tales of murder and violent crime. He goes to the play area and meets Eli again. He has a Rubik’s cube and she seems fascinated by it. To me that played into the traditional obsessive compulsive aspect of a vampire. She is wearing light clothing and he asks if she is cold – she tells him no, she has forgotten how to be cold. He also tells her that she smells funny but lends her the Rubik’s cube and it becomes clear that the two will be friends despite themselves.
Meanwhile, at a Chinese restaurant – the Sun Palace – we meet our main adult characters. Lacke has seen Håkan around and asks him over – this is one of the areas where the DVD subtitles really fail us and fail to add any depth to the film and characters – but Håkan avoids the contact. Later we see Lacke walk Jocke (Mikael Rahm) to an underpass – this is observed by the reclusive and cat loving Gösta (Karl Robert Lindgren) from his balcony. Jocke sees Eli curled up asking for help, he lifts her and she attacks – the little girl overpowering him, drinking his blood and then snapping his neck (presumably to prevent infection). Håkan has to go out and dispose of the body.
That is about as far as I want to go on a blow by blow plot but I love what the film does with the genre and thus I wish to explore that. Firstly we should note that Eli states that she is alive rather than dead – and at times her face seems to age. This aging effect was subtly done and added a level of creepiness to the entire film. I should also note that there is almost an animalistic level to Eli’s vampiric responses but, rather than give her a jungle noise – as it where – a similar but less intrusive effect is achieved by having her stomach growl when hungry or near blood.
We discover, after Eli attacks Lacke’s female friend Virginia (Ika Nord) but fails to finish her, some of the dangers of being undead. The first to be noted is just how violently cats react to vampires. She is in Gösta’s flat when his cats attack her – she has turned by then but thinks she is ill – now the trouble with the scene is that the cats are clearly CGI but the idea of cats detesting the undead is nothing new and I would cite the film Sleepwalkers as a primary example.
We also discover the effect of sunlight is somewhat explosive. Eli sleeps in a bath, covered in layers with the windows blocked out and we see Virginia’s finger start to blacken on exposure. However it is when Virginia is in hospital that we see the full, devastating, effect of sunlight as the body is consumed in huge, roaring flames. We also discover that Eli can climb multiple stories of a building, she suggests to Oskar that she can fly but it is more likely that she can leap and climb.
Probably the most clever aspect is that about being invited in – hence the title. Vampires cannot enter somewhere uninvited but there are no invisible barriers – as sometimes portrayed. Eli enters Oskar’s apartment uninvited as Oskar refuses to say come in, disbelieving that anything bad will happen. Eli starts to bleed, from her pores, from her eyes, from her ears. The bleeding ceases when Oskar vocalises an invitation.
I said that this is a lyrical fantasy and, in many respects, I would put it in the same arena as Valerie and her Week of Wonders but, where that was a coming of age, this is a coming of violence. In the book things are different but in the film I got the impression that Eli represents a physical manifestation of Oskar’s darker personality. In the book he is already, at twelve, a petty criminal, his decent into violence, later in life, is virtually guaranteed. In the film I did not get so much of a sense of that but, rather, that he is a bullied boy being pushed towards counter-violence (with extreme prejudice). Eli represents that part of him – she says, at one point, that he should be her a little, in other words a killer, rather than tries to talk him out of violence.
One has to appreciate the performances of the two child actors who carried this film from beginning to end. They are the main focal point of the film, with other performers almost being ciphers to them. Kudos.
The film has many levels and it draws a beautifully cold and sparse landscape around the viewer. Even with the dumbed down subtitles it is worthwhile, hopefully the edition with proper subtitling will not be too far away. The score I give may seem a little incongruous as it is higher than that I gave the book but the film is a very different beast and some of the (probably translation) clunkiness I felt with the book isn’t apparent through the cinematography. Note that the film is easier to watch, than the book is to read, as the book is very disturbing. 9 out of 10.
The imdb page is here.
Friday, March 27, 2009
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson