While it faced steep competition from the first Twilight movie, Let the Right One In earns the accolade of being the best adolescent vampire romance of 2008. Last Friday, WAVE Productions hosted a free screening of the Swedish film. Attendees were encouraged to donate money to help fund WAVE’s theatrical rendition of the the story. After the screening, Northwestern professors Stephen Cohn and Nick Davis led a discussion about both the film and WAVE’s plans for the play.
The story of Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson) slowly reveals itself to be a melancholic allegory for the confusion of pre-pubescence while also addressing parental failures, isolation and gender. Oskar, a morose 12-year-old who deals with bullying, meets Eli, his mysterious neighbor with a dark secret, and the two form a friendship that is both twisted and sentimental. The film is expertly directed by Tomas Alfredson, a name unfortunately tarnished after he directed one of last year’s most hated films, The Snowman. Unlike that film’s memetically terrible poster, Let The Right One In eschews horror cliches in favor of a detached formalism that is more reminiscent of European art films. However, the film remembers to show that even the most sympathetic of vampires are horrifying and violent.
Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who most recently won acclaim for his work on Dunkirk, creates a sense of foreboding in the snowy Swedish suburbs by manipulating darkness and slowly moving the camera. The technical skill on display makes it clear why several of the film’s signature shots have resonated with fans of modern horror. While the filmmaking feels slightly removed from the events it’s depicting, Hedebrant and Leandersson manage to find the humanity in characters who deal with both typical prepubescent drama and more abnormal issues, like finding victims to feed off. Leandersson, in particular, brings vulnerability to a part that also requires her to be terrifying. Edward Cullen could learn a thing or two from her.
Thematically, the film focuses on the pains of being an outcast while your body changes. Vampirism becomes a metaphor for the pains of puberty and the debilitating effect it can have on a child’s body. Eli’s relationship with a man who commits murders to feed her bloodlust also reflects the trauma of dealing with parental figures who fail at their duties.The relationship she develops with Oskar comes with all the awkwardness, insecurity and murder that can be expected from young love.
After the screening, Cohn and Davis discussed the film’s unique focus on adolescence.
“What’s impressive to me is that I can’t think of another movie that’s so embedded in popular film culture that confronts adolescent sexuality so directly,” Cohn said. He praised the film’s ability to feel both visceral and stylish.
“This movie has a veneer of sickness and stylization. And a lot of movies that are slick don’t also feel tactile and physical. But this manages to have its cake and eat it too."
Davis compared the film to The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. Both films portray a Sweden that is a far cry from the image of nationwide unity and friendliness that it projects to the world.
“What this movie and Girl with a Dragon Tattooare going out of their way to do is to show us a Sweden where almost everybody is isolated from everybody else.” Davis said, also noting that it reflects a Sweden where retirees increasingly die alone.
Gaby San’tanna, who will direct WAVE’s theatrical version, talked about how the play differs from both the film and the original novel it was based on.
“One of the things that is really cool about the theatrical adaptation is that it takes something that is so far from the theatrical and turns it on its head and makes it this thing that you’re in,” San’tanna said.
The performance will be staged in the Louis Room, and San’tanna intends to place the audience within the play.