Let the Right One In (2008)

let the right one in

Let the Right One In wants the viewer to sympathise with someone who murders people because she ‘has to’.

Not as affecting as I was led to believe.

I don’t like vampires; I’ve found the genre’s latest surge in popularity most boring. Indeed, I don’t particularly like fantasy generally, I’ve never been that interested in the much lauded Lord of the Rings trilogy, Game of Thrones or the scores of others. However I do like fantastical narratives when they’re grounded in reality, like the superb Pan’s Labyrinth.

Let the Right One In, which I have been comparing to Pan’s Labyrinth, is grounded in reality too. It is set in 1980s Blackeburg, an achromatic, modernist mess in suburban Stockholm. However, unlike Pan’s, this Swedish horror is bereft of the characters, the imagination and the pathos that made Guillermo Del Toro’s film such a great piece of fantasy.

The film focuses on Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), another archetypal bully victim who’s too sensitive to stick up for himself. I love seeing a bit of playground retribution, and there is a great moment of it in Let the Right One In, but Oskar is a stock character who is generally quite unremarkable and hollow.

This proverbial loner soon meets the mysterious Eli (Lina Leandersson), who unfortunately is even more laconic. Although Leandersson isn’t given much dramatic range, she has a good physicality for the role with her long, dishevelled hair and her big, brown, bleeding eyes.

One of the main problems is that there just isn’t much chemistry between them, not much depth. Yes, the principal characters are 11-year-olds, I know from personal experience that children aren’t as likely to discuss in detail things that really matter, but seldom if at all do Eli and Oskar have an interaction that is above vacant gawping and muttering.

It is a film about two outcasts coming together, it should be moving, I was expecting something of a vampiric Leaving Las Vegas, however it’s difficult to empathise or in fact care at all when one character is a murderer and the other is a laconic child who forever fails to wipe his runny nose (which is rather repellent in full 1080p). Some of the supporting characters were also flat, especially bullies Conny and his older brother, who are excessively and unrealistically cruel.

This all may seem harsh, I don’t think it is a bad film, but the endless praise and the 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes had given me high expectations and they were not met.

Through cinematography, décor, costume design and plenty of Scandinavian pathetic fallacy, the film achieves a pervasive and at times oppressive ambience of melancholia. There are also some very well-orchestrated set pieces, particularly the film’s penultimate scene in Oskar’s school swimming pool; it is initially ambiguous, proceeding to shift mood and wind tension and suspense excellently. The sound is also sharp and really booms in some instances, adding to several of the film’s jumpier moments.

Although I liked its ambience, realist elements and several grisly scares, Let the Right One In fails to justify its reputation as it doesn’t sufficiently explore its characters, the central relationship is quite vapid and the narrative is marred by several instances of Eli’s gratuitous violence and an implausible conclusion.

68%

Vampire’s Kiss (1989)

vampire's kiss

I found myself laughing at this unsung gem far more than I would at any conventional ‘comedy’. 

Over the years, Nicolas Cage has developed a reputation for being a ‘paycheque actor’, the National Treasures, the Ghost Riders and the slew of others have, in the eyes of many, demeaned him as an actor. I can understand this, and agree to a certain extent, but Nicolas Cage is capable of many great things on the big screen, and Vampire’s Kiss, a genuinely peculiar piece of work, is a testament to that.

Cage occupies the role of Peter Loew, a womanising literary agent whose empty, high-pressure existence leads to a major mental breakdown. Peter is sent into a downward spiral of increasingly psychotic episodes, believing he is turning into a vampire after apparently being bitten by a rather more sinister one night stand.  As Peter crumbles under the grasp of his psychosis, he begins to antagonise his sweet secretary Alva, obsessively badgering her to fix a painfully daunting and monotonous filing issue.

Cage is at his unhinged best in this film; his rather idiosyncratic lunacy is perhaps an acquired taste, but I found it to be refreshingly hilarious. It’s a truly strange performance, there are many memorable outbursts that leave you rather incredulous, such as a scene of infantile crying that is quickly followed by Cage running down a street shouting ‘I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire!’. Aside from the various crazy eruptions, the inflections in Cage’s voice also have this comic air of pomposity – it’s futile to try and describe them, you have to hear them yourself.

With its yuppie-in-trouble story line, Vampire’s Kiss bears a striking resemblance to American Psycho, only it’s much stranger. The film charts the descent into madness, but it does it in such a surreal, eccentric manner that you don’t take it very seriously, it is indeed difficult to empathise with Peter. Some have said that this is a detriment of the film, but I don’t think it is; besides, I think the themes of unhappiness and unfulfillment do have a certain degree of poignancy. It is first and foremost a black comedy with an oddball central performance, not a grim piece of drama.

‘Vampire’s Kiss’ is likely to polarise audiences. I’m sure many viewers would find it plain silly, but I thoroughly enjoyed it, I’m very much part of its cult following. I found myself laughing far more than I would at any conventional ‘comedy’.

86%