Posted by: dougery | December 1, 2008

To Befriend a Monster

It’s official. It’s that time of year when good movies are back in the theaters, even if the one I just saw had to get here by making the long journey from Norway.

Let the Right One In is horror film in the strictest sense. It takes the little things that make up our lives, and magnifies them to the point where things get awful in a hurry. Divorce, loneliness, bullies. On the one hand, Let the Right One In is the story about a child outcast in a fractured single-parent home named Oskar who lives in an isolated Norwegian town and has become the butt of his local classmates jokes. The film is preoccupied with how unfair it is that we are made who we are, literally ‘composed’ by those we spend time with. That many times we don’t have much of a choice who these people are to the point where most times we have to sludge through the day surrounded by the folks we’d least prefer to be around. They shape us anyway, and nobody gets out of middle school unscathed.

The film begins when a young girl moves in nextdoor to Oskar. Oh yeah, she just happens to be a vampire.

That plot point seems initially to be perfectly incidental. It just so happens that his neighbor is a vampire. His real life is horrible enough, a creature of the night isn’t going to make any difference. And at first it appears her arrival will only improve his circumstances. Eli befriends Oskar, and the two share a wonderfully strange and awkward relationship. Less awkward because of the whole undead thing, and more because these two kids are just odd and want friends but aren’t exactly used to folks accepting them for who they are. It is this relationship that is the film’s very strong beating heart.

[spoilers ahead]

But like the film’s title suggests, we may not be able to choose who we have to associate with on a day to day basis, but we can control who we really let into our lives. Who we allow to really mater. In one devastating sequence shortly after Oskar finds out Eli is even stranger than he first thought, the girl asks to be let inside his apartment. Thing is, she needs to be invited. Classic vampire mythology. And Oskar mocks her. Says something like “What is stopping you from coming in?” and refuses to invite her. Eli stubbornly walks in anyway, and then begins to physically deteriorate from the inside out. And Oskar lets this go on for far too long, as if proving a point and showing Eli that he has power over her too.

On the one hand the film seems to be saying that without friends we’re as good as dead. But on the other hand the person Oskar chooses to befriend is a monster. She will bring violence and death with her wherever she goes. Eli does teach Oskar to stand up for himself against the bullies. But just like her, he lets the violence get out of hand. When he finally smashes a bullies ear with a stick it only invites retribution from the bullies in kind. And this time simple name-calling isn’t going to cut it for their amusement.

It is a surprise to no one that the film ends in a Columbine like manner. Yet here we are, with the ‘good guys’ doing the slaughtering. And I use the scare quotes because the film is careful to shade everything and everyone in a very gray moral spectrum. This messiness lays in the stark contrast to the blisteringly pure snow that covers the trees and ground and occupies so many of the films quiet natural shots. When the blood seeps in, it only shows up that much more on such a stark background.

Yet the most disturbing aspect of all is how cyclical the film resolves. As the film opens, Eli is chaperoned into town by a haggard old man who has little to offer young Eli except for a methodically evil way of acquiring her human blood. There is a relationship here, but something is not quite right. There is no mention of the man being her father. We are given no information regarding this odd pairing. Eventually through the course of the movie, he fails and she disposes of him. In the end, one has to wonder as Oskar rides out of town with Eli in a box at his feet, at what point will he too become that haggard old man? At what point will their own friendship bleed out? Loaded with interesting questions and moral quandaries, Let the Right One In provides no easy answers.

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