Fanboys tend to go crazy over horror films that take seriously their fantastic elements. For example, a much cited boon for Shaun of the Dead was that the film’s zombies posed a serious, legitimate threat to the characters. Let the Right One In is certainly a “serious” vampire movie, shot in the stark desolate landscape of a snowy Swedish suburb. It might also be just about the most overrated film of the year.
The best horror films are not really “about” their fantastic elements. Rather, their fantastic elements are a way of shedding light on some aspect of humanity. Bruce LaBruce’s recent Otto; Or, Up With Dead People is a good example, using zombie mythology as a queer critique of the persecution of beings whose corporeal way of life is considered abject. Let the Right One In is a vampire story and a love story: 13-year-old Oskar is a quiet victim of school bullies. The eternally young vampire Eli turns up on his doorstep and they fall in love and she solves all his problems. The problem here is that the vampire element does nothing to illuminate the love story or vice versa. Eli is a semiotic dead-end: A vampire is a vampire is vampire.
Vampires could potentially be used to explore all sorts of topics: That their mode of killing is particularly sensuous has meant that they have often signified excessive sexuality. Eli is an old vampire in the body of a child who is cared for by a normal human man who is much older than she is in body. There could have been a really interesting exploration of child sexuality here and indeed in the original novel, Eli’s keeper was a pedophile. That is all cut out of the film and the film is all the poorer for it.
It might seem a bit stupid to pick at bad logic in a horror film, but there is some glaringly bad writing here. In an early scene, Eli’s keeper kills a child in a park and hangs him upside down to collect his blood. He gets caught mid-act and has to make a run for it, but this begs the question: Why the hell did he kill a child in an open public space? IN THE MOST BRIGHTLY LIT PLACE POSSIBLE? The answer: Because that is what the script-writer demands.
Another mistake the script makes is to overstate Oskar’s predicament at school. Sure, people get bullied – but do bullies often premeditate murder without any concern as to whether they will be caught? Because they do in this film, loudly clearing a pool out so they can torture young defenceless Oskar. I don’t think bullies necessarily need to be sympathetic but a mature film would at least attempt to humanise them; to show what makes them tick. The bullies in Let the Right One In are evil because they are evil and that is what the script calls for. This kind of simplistic good-versus-evil view of the world really needs to be called out.
Besides the questionable quality of the special effects, the one particularly troubling moment is a shot of Eli’s vagina. Oskar creeps up on Eli while she is changing and he sneaks a peek. In the book, Eli has apparently been castrated and this is apparently a reference to that. However, the script does nothing to establish this, nor does it explain afterwards. If what we see is Eli’s castrated genital area, that’s really not how it registers. The shot is too quick and the impression we are left with is of Eli’s prepubescent vagina. Perhaps an abnormally ugly vagina, but a vagina nonetheless. This really smacks of shoddy filmmaking – if you can’t let the audience know that they’re seeing castrated genitals, perhaps it’s best not to show anything at all.
Perhaps we need to ask more than for genre movies to take fantasy seriously. Maybe genre movies need to take life seriously too.
SEE THIS WITH:
Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro, 2006)