When Should I Have Let the Right One In?

Well, I finally did it. I rented and watched what many believe to be one of the best films of 2008: the horror-drama Let the Right One In.

The result? I was not all that impressed.

… I know – I am just as perplexed by this as you probably are.

Whenever I watch a movie, I’m rooting for it to be just perfect enough – you have to allow some wiggle room for error (but then it’s up to you how much space you personally want to devote to that). I feel this mentality is a great one for judging motion pictures. Any film I give a perfect rating to seems to me to truly deserve it while the other less fortunate films – the good, the bad, the great, the horrendous, and the mediocre – are subjected to a more succinct treatment of honesty than if there were no system at all.

This process can also be the set-up for an active mind’s Burmese tiger trap. Every once in a while, I will see a movie that was given stellar reviews from critics and moviegoers alike but causes a mostly opposite effect on me – as is the case of Right One. Some people in my life assure me that I would probably benefit more by merely stating “I didn’t like it” or “It was a weird movie” (or “I was not all that impressed”) and move on – that there is no need to analyze the reaction further. At the expense of revealing how neurotic I have become, I somewhat disagree with this. To be judgmental about anything and to vocalize opinion is to enter a battlefield – you better have the correct amount of artillery to defend yourself should the occasion arise.

So here we are, back to pondering why I didn’t appreciate Let the Right One In as much as the rest of the world. I have already dug through a lot of dissected innards up to this point on the matter. For one, there is the fact that I’ve never been particularly blown away by anything vampire-related. We can all agree that the film takes place in present day (or at least close enough – there is a bit of an ’80s vibe from the characters’ wardrobes and styles, but I digress). So how is it that the potential victims are so slow at realizing they have a vampire among them? Is this a world where famous names like Bram Stoker, Bela Lugosi, and Count Dracula never graced anyone’s ears (other than the well-read Oskar, the only character to say the “V” word in the whole film)? Preposterous! And what about the stuck aging process of our little bloodsucker Eli? She is clearly a nod to Anne Rice’s character Claudia from Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, but if she’s smart enough to solve a Rubik’s cube within 24 hours of her first try, wouldn’t she also be able to figure out she is far older than twelve and comprehend the pedophiliac nature of “going steady” with the authentically twelve Oskar? To argue that she still has the twelve-year-old mentality doesn’t make much sense – she seems exponentially far from the type who flat out refuses to continue to learn. Maybe Eli has a hidden agenda. Maybe vampires are more evil than we have originally thought…

This is coming off as a case of completely pretentious nitpicks, I’m sure – mostly because I feel similarly about my problems with the silly fictional subject. So when I get to this point of my frustration with my inability to pinpoint exactly what went wrong with my viewing experience, I take a step back and try to find a bigger, more substantial, clear-as-daylight reason that I am not with the majority. I don’t know if I’ve discovered it yet, but I’m starting to wonder if the problem is simply that I saw the three-year old film too late in the game.

The more I consider this option, the more sense it makes. Right One was released to American audiences incredibly close to the same time the first entry of the Twilight adaptations was revealed. It was another instance of two differing films with the same generalized theme allowing the critics to play the game of Compare & Contrast as to entertain inform any potential ticket-buyers (See also: A Bug’s Life/AntzDeep Impact/ArmageddonPaul Blart: Mall Cop/Observe and Report, etc.). I agree that Right One is a much better movie, but exactly how fueled by Twilight exhaustion/prejudice is that (“Top Critics'”) 97% rating for Right One on the Tomato-Meter at Rotten Tomatoes? My prediction is the answer is a much larger statistic than the first guess (which also says something about how bad some moviegoers passionately feelTwilight is).

Occasionally timing is everything – especially in the business of movies. It’s a lesson I’ve been reminded of a lot lately. When I watched a cinema’s first screening of The Help last month on its opening day’s afternoon (something I believe I’ve never done with a new film – though I’m not counting midnight showings), my timing was rewarded afterward with the pleasure of seeing how future audiences would individually react (and boy, did they ever react – powerful word of mouth kept it at the top of the box office for 25 days straight). The outing provided quite the window for me as to how those first audiences can make or break a film. I imagine quite a few of Right One‘s first audiences were horror fans ready for some awesomely portrayed violence. In this regard, the film does not disappoint; it supplies more than enough bricks of coal to light the fire.

Another example of timing with movies that shoots immediately to mind is admittedly more of a theory. Roger Ebert is well known (or maybe “notorious”) for standing by his opinion that video games are not art. Last year, he took a hiatus from writing reviews to work on writing his autobiography. Among the films that slipped by during this hiatus? Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a comedy adaptation of a graphic novel with a style that is heavily inspired by the pop culture of video games. Since Pilgrim is a movie that for the most part “does its own thing,” it is more than understandable that avid readers of Ebert would anxiously anticipate his thorough reaction to the flick.

I, for one, now hope he never writes one – it should forever remain an unsolved mystery. While Pilgrim is a fairly decent film, its moment in the sun has faded. There are films that will potentially forever remain timeless, but Pilgrim – the big-time embracer of an undercurrent fad – is not one of them. If Ebert has been exposed to his colleagues’ opinions of Pilgrim in the slightest (and I don’t see how he could not have been by Septemeber of 2011) then who is to say his review would not be influenced in one way or the other and therefore unauthentic? It would have been nice to see what he had to say (he could maybe – maybe get away with creating a replicated instance and seeing it on some other hot summer day), but I think that ship has sailed.

Perhaps this is a similar problem with me and Let the Right One In. Part of me wishes I had seen the film while it was still in theaters or even immediately upon the heels of its DVD release, but now I feel somewhat obligated to have to make due with the fact that I saw it when I did and convince myself that I am grateful for allowing the film’s popularity to wear off and all that other movie nerd jargon. Some films are made with the purpose of repeat viewings and some are made to treat those who were eager enough to seek it in a cinema showroom. I am beginning to think Let the Right One In is an example of the latter – that I failed to see it in its designated fashion.

… Or maybe it’s too much of a bloated art house picture….

5 Responses to “When Should I Have Let the Right One In?”

  1. Josh Glasgow says:

    I don’t know about your contention that you saw the film too late to appreciate it fully. Some films certainly shine in their moment, especially those which are more pop culturally sensitive, but I tend to think of Let the Right One In as something more of a classic.

    I think there are basically two camps when it comes to the film: those who believe that Eli is an adult and those who believe that Eli is a child. This difference of opinion certainly influences the way that you perceive the film: the first group sees it with cynical eyes, as a methodical horror film fueled by manipulation; the second views it romantically, as a sincere friendship between Eli and Oskar.

    You raise a good point about Eli’s ability to solve the Rubik’s cube, but I maintain that she does remain a child mentally. Solving the puzzle does not imply that she has the mind of an adult – simply being, say, 60 years old does not grant one the ability to quickly solve a riddle of that nature. The only thing that it truly shows is that she is able to conceptualize the problem faster (a trait which spills over into her physical ability to speed to Oskar’s side when necessary).

    I don’t see any sexual component to Oskar and Eli’s friendship, and her willingness to injure herself for Oskar (coming into his apartment w/o permission) exhibit her fondness for him. Would she have done that for Hakan? I don’t think so.

    I really need to re-watch this film and write a good review of it for GTTM. I feel much differently than you do about it, but I’m glad that we’re able to have this dicussion!

    • Chris Meier says:

      To paraphrase another vampire movie’s fanbase, I understood Team Child Romance’s side of the debate while watching the film (to a point – the whole “can’t-help-who-you-love” perspective is very… well, ‘Twilight’), but then I read the film’s tagline:

      “Eli is 12 years old. She’s been 12 for over 200 years, and she just moved in next door.”

      To me, that solidifies where I stand. I was a bit uneasy with Claudia from ‘Interview’, but ‘LTROI’ pushes things further, especially the glimpses of Eli as a physically older woman (slurping blood off the floor, “Be me a little,” etc.).

      But I don’t think she’s grooming Oskar to be the new Hakan completely. While Hakan was basically her protector, she seems to be Oskar’s (so much for his weightlifting!). If she is manipulating – and I say she was at least starting out with the intention to – she’s putting a new spin into it (Also, maybe less killing outside would be a good idea).

      I can’t buy the “mentally a child” stuff too much either. It is apparent that she has behavioral issues; given what we know of her origins, those I can comprehend. I get what you’re saying about her puzzle-solving, but I guess since I’m on Team 212+-Year-Old, I took it as a different sort of indicator.

      Okay, I’ll come right out and say it: Oskar was more of a man than Hakan the serial killer. Interestingly, both were willing to share blood (in vastly different ways) with Eli, but I feel Eli’s “w/o permission” action was the equivalent/answer to the open-wound handshake earlier. Still, Hakan’s final scene has quite a subtext of loyalty to it – sort of his quiet resignation.

      Can’t wait for your fresh new take on it!

  2. Nick says:

    “So how is it that the potential victims are so slow at realizing they have a vampire among them? Is this a world where famous names like Bram Stoker, Bela Lugosi, and Count Dracula never graced anyone’s ears?”

    Because all of the immediate victims are either: (1) killed by a human with a knife; (2) shredded so severely by Eli that any sane human would firstly assume an animal attack over a vampire one (as is actually stated in the film); or (3) decapitated. The only other “victim” in the entire film combusts, but for someone to firstly assume “vampire victim” would be more preposterous than anything.

    “…Wouldn’t she also be able to figure out she is far older than twelve and comprehend the pedophiliac nature of “going steady” with the authentically twelve Oskar?”

    I appreciate your review and don’t mean to belittle or offend, but at this point, it’s clear you missed a significant portion of the film’s subtext.

    Eli is fully aware that she is stuck in a 12-year-old’s body. And because of this, the predominant reason she “goes steady” with Oskar is to court him into the role that Hakan filled before he died. That’s why the ending is so profoundly heartbreaking to most viewers: Oskar believes Eli loves him, and while she might, she is old enough — and smart enough — to know that he loves her enough to keep her secret hidden and, furthermore, kill for her to sustain her living.

    (Missing all of this is forgivable in that it is only suggested in Alfredson’s movie; whereas it’s explicitly stated and visualized in the book and the American remake, respectively. Another thing: Hakan is actually described as a pedophile in the book. Author Lindqvist was fully aware of the implications of the relationships between Eli and Hakan and Eli and Oskar.)

    Forgive me, but I didn’t finish the review past the last paragraph I directly responded to. Therefore, I’m not sure if the review took a turn of acknowledgement of any of the aforementioned details.

    Thanks for your review, though. I think you got it wrong, but this is doubtless an opinion-oriented business, so there’s no way to tell for sure. 😉

  3. Chris Meier says:

    Thanks for your comment, Nick. I was hoping some other people who have seen film before me and had more time to consider its details would respond to this. I hit the jackpot with you since you’ve seen the remake and read the novel.

    I still have doubts about the town’s unawareness of Eli as a vampire for two key reasons. The first comes when Eli attacks the fellow under the bridge. The cat owner (I forget his name) witnesses the whole thing. Granted, it’s from the distance of his apartment’s balcony, but he is able to recognize the killer as a little girl (as is also stated in the film). Following that is the slow fate of Virginia. She notices her fragility to sunlight, bares the signature bite mark, and returns to the location of Eli’s first victim – in search of and thirsty for the blood she and the group found earlier. She states she feels the girl “infected” her when all the signs are there.

    But I think she absolutely knows she’s a vampire too (after sleeping on it) when she has the RN open the blinds. I also think the cat owner has done the math and knows around the time he proclaims hesitance about “interrogation stuff.” The question then is why these two don’t point out why a vampire isn’t so preposterous an answer. The best answers I could come up with is that Cat Guy is too petrified of dying to expose his knowledge, and Virginia detests her husband enough not to care for his well-being. My original opinion of these characters was left at the surface – that like most other horror movie victims they were written to be gullible and astonishingly ignorant. My take is now kinder towards them, but I still feel a little of the first theory is still present.

    Now, as for your clarification of Eli’s awareness of her aging handicap, thank you – it was most indeed helpful and not at all belittling. I was tiptoeing around the idea that Eli is actually in the process of a long, transitional con with Oskar. Only yesterday (before your reply) it dawned on me that Eli is still capable of molding Oskar into Hakan’s final position – that it wouldn’t be too many steps away. So yes, a sad turnout for young, impressionable Oskar.

    Speaking of Hakan, I’m a little surprised to learn that the book says he is a pedophile, though I suppose I shouldn’t be, given that he is a serial killer whose only companion is Eli. I guess that detail just seems a bit redundant and best speculated to me (sort of like Freddy Krueger, pre-Jackie Earle). Maybe it did to Alfredson too?

    I must admit it is fun to analyze and talk about this film afterwards, but to this viewer, to actually watch the film is quite a chore – even with the freshly acquired knowledge and theories. I tried watching it again; the pacing seemed quicker but all of the dread I felt from the first viewing was gone and missed. As a lover of foreign films, it sort of pains me to say that I might like the American remake better. I guess we’ll see…

  4. Nick says:

    I definitely see where you’re coming from in regards to the cat couple and their vampire-related naivety. And I agree with you, after all — on that front.

    Have you seen the remake yet? I’m assuming you haven’t, unless you’ve done so in the last 24 hours. Because of my strong feelings for the book and Alfredson’s film, I was incredibly pissed to hear about the remake (excluding Richard Jenkins’ involvement).

    The thing I was most angered by was the news that Matt Reeves had changed Eli’s name to Abby, nearly completely decimating any androgynous insinuation (in the book — and for one brief shot in the Swedish film, if you remember — it is insinuated that Eli is not a female, but either a castrated male or something else entirely [in the film, there is a very brief shot of Eli naked — when Oskar peeks at her changing — and her…um…this is gonna be awkward however I put it…her genital area has a horizontal…uh…slit…instead of a vertical one). And I was afraid that with that alone, Reeves had missed another strong piece of subtext/social commentary originally written by Lindqvist. And maybe Reeves indeed missed it, but I ended up loving the remake almost as much as I loved the original.

    And even considering your position on the Let the Right One In, I would assume you’ll enjoy Let Me In — if not by itself, probably at least more than the former.

    Anyway, good talk. Thanks again for your review — and your response.

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