Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tomas Alfredson: Låt den rätte komma in

English title: Let the Right One In.

One down and six to go … :-)

I saw this movie on Sunday, September 21st – I’m just really slow to blog about stuff. Better late than never. It was a fun event – the first ever movie screening on the roof of the new Opera here in Oslo, and I think I can say that it was a resounding success. A huge crowd turned out for the screening and a good time seemed to be had by all.

First of all, I have to say that I love the book that this movie is based on. I think it’s a fantastic, unique, original, brilliant novel. So obviously my thoughts on the movie will be colored by that. Someone who hasn’t read the book would probably see things differently. Låt den rätte komma in was my first ever BookCrossing book … which in itself was so great, because it really showed me why BookCrossing is such a brilliant idea. I got the book from my friend findabair, who had read it … or at least most of it … and totally hated it. She gave it to me because she thought it sucked so much that she didn’t want it in her house. :-D I read it and I loved it. I thought it was completely fantastic, it was one of the best books I read that whole year. So … one person’s trash is another’s treasure. :-) I strongly recommend the book, don’t listen to findabair. ;-) I released a copy of the book during the screening – haven’t heard from it yet, but hope springs eternal (it got picked up almost immediately :-).

Anyway … the movie.

Brief plot summary: The year is 1981, the place is Blackeberg, a suburb of Stockholm. Our hero Oskar is 12 years old and lives alone with his mother. He is bullied at school, has no real friends, and dreams of revenge. Not entirely a nice kid … but the other kids are all worse. >:-) It’s winter. Suddenly, a girl Oskar’s age and her creepy father move into the building. The girl, Eli, is weird – like no one Oskar’s ever met – but the two of them hit it off. Then things start happening. A young boy is brutally killed, the body drained of blood, strange equipment found on the scene. A man disappears. Oskar begins to discover Eli’s secrets. Håkan isn’t her father. And she isn’t a girl. Or even human.

OK, first, what was good about the movie? The setting. The recreation of 1981 is totally convincing and a lot of fun to watch. Many of the actors are very good, the two leads especially … the girl who plays Eli is a real find, she’s fantastic. I was very impressed with her. The plot … the concept is still very original, it’s a pretty unique take on the vampire legend, and I do think this is a must see for any vampire movie fan. The plot is intriguing and the story is sound – a little underdeveloped, IMO, but sound. A number of really good scenes.

What’s not good? Well, one thing that Anéa pointed out (we were at the screening together) that is very true is that there are a lot of ‘mood setting scenes’ – ie, long, drawn-out shots of snowflakes in the wind, period furniture, etc. Yeah, it’s a long time ago, we get it. There’s only so much of that type of thing that is actually useful in establishing your setting and after that it gets annoying more than anything. Somewhat stricter editing might have been in order.

Apart from that, what I didn’t like about the movie has to do with character and plot. The latter has been condensed, of course, into only part of what it is in the book. Now it’s mainly a freaky love story between Oskar and Eli. A lot has been ‘lost in translation’ … which I accept, and expect, it’s part of the deal when a book is turned into a movie. But I think that unfortunately, what has been lost in this case … is a lot of what makes the book so unique. So anyone who likes this movie absolutely must read the book.

What really is too bad about this movie is what has become of the character Håkan. He is a middle-aged man, a rather pathetic person, who poses as Eli’s father, but is in fact her renfield. Their relationship is pretty unhealthy – she needs him, and he wants her. He is a pedophile and Eli is the object of his affection – an ideal object, really; a child who never ages. But Eli doesn’t really understand human emotion any more. Håkan wants her to love him and feels used by her, she depends on him and resents it. It’s a twisted relationship … and IMO it’s one of the most memorable elements in the book. The conversations between them – no descriptive text, just their lines back and forth – are extremely striking and memorable. We get to hear about some of Håkan’s back story and experiences, and we share his thoughts and emotions in a number of ‘his’ scenes. It’s rare to come across a character in a novel who is a pedophile … and who, what’s more, is treated by the author as a fully rounded human being, not just a one-dimensional villain. It’s a real achievement on Lindqvist’s part and a vital part of the book’s originality.

In the movie, though, Håkan is basically a cardboard cutout. The relationship between him and Eli is not at all explored, and if I had known nothing about how it was originally written I think I would have struggled to see why Eli even needs him around. Just to provide an adult presence to the outside world, since a 12 year old kid can’t live on her own. But he is absolutely no use to her beyond that. In the movie, he even botches the first murder, which in the book he has no practical difficulties with. The entirety of his attraction to Eli has been written out. I can guess why – without Håkan’s internal monologue it would be difficult bordering on impossible to portray his character sympathetically. So instead of trying, they chickened out. A real shame, since IMO this character is one of the absolutely strongest features of the book.

The screenplay to this movie was written by John Ajvide Lindqvist himself. He claims to be absolutely delighted, completely utterly fantastically thrilled, beyond ecstatically happy with the finished result. I’m not even exaggerating. ;-) I unfortunately don’t feel the same way. It’s a really good movie – very original, well crafted, excellent performances. But I personally felt that there was a lot missing. So for me it was a letdown in some ways. Not unexpectedly, but still. Even so, though, if you’re only going to see one socialdemocratic-realistic 1980s suburban Swedish vampire horror mystery thriller this year … you definitely need to make it Let the Right One In. ;-)

The trailer:

If you read Swedish, you can get a little inside info on the trailer here.

A scene from the movie:


Paz said...

will see if I can get book in English, i used to like vampire books, before I stopped reading

findabair said...

"one socialdemocratic-realistic 1980s suburban Swedish vampire horror mystery thriller"

Those two words up there sums up much of my dislike of the book...


Paz - if you do get the book and don't like it, don't say I didn't warn you!! :)

Truand said...

adaptations suck almost always.

this might be my next reading if I find it in french. I've been looking for something to read for a while.

Leisha Camden said...

Paz: What do you mean, 'stopped reading'?? OMG! That to me is like saying you stopped breathing. ;-) You should definitely check out this book, it is such an original and intriguing vampire story. It was published in the UK last year, paperback edition out this spring ... so I'm sure it'll be possible to find in Ireland too. If you do read it, you've got to tell me what you think ... !!! :-)

Oh, and don't listen to findabair - she's usually spot on about books, but in this case she's just totally wrong ... !! ;-)

findabair: you shouldn't see this movie. ;-) Some of the worst gore has been written out (like the scene where Eli's found sleeping in the bathtub - in the movie she's just sleeping peacefully in a nest of sheets and what not) but overall, they have kept a great many of the elements that you didn't like. So ... save your money, definitely. ;-)

Truand: in almost all cases the book is better than the movie. But I absolutely don't think this movie sucks. Not at all. I like it, I think it's very well worth seeing. For those who like that kind of thing. ;-) But it's just that this book, IMO, is SO brilliant ... ! I mean, I read at about a hundred books a year. If not more. And that year - this was 2006 - this book was in my top five. If not top three. So my expectations, even though I tried to keep them down, were so high when it came to the movie. It didn't quite live up to them, but it was a really good movie.

I don't think the book has been published in French, at least not yet. I can't find it at amazon.fr. Good luck though. :-)As I said, it is available in English, at least. :-) Again, if you do read it, I'd love to hear what you think.

Paz said...

still cannot find this book :(

Leisha Camden said...

Hmmm ...