7.12.2013

Cinematic Saturdays - Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist


Those of you who watched last week’s collaborative video review of the Twilight Saga may have fallen under the impression that I hate vampires unconditionally. While I’m certainly averse to bad writing (sorry Stephenie Meyer), and feel that vampires have been grossly overrated and overdone in recent years, there are still a handful of interpretations that I feel are worthy of recommendation. Anne Rice, author of Interview with a Vampire, handled the mythical monsters beautifully; as did Swedish novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist, author of today’s book, Let the Right One In.




Title: Let the Right One In
Author:  John Ajvide Lindqvist
Publisher: Quercus
Publication Date: January 2004
Pages: 513
Genre: Horror, Drama

Rating: 

Summary (from Goodreads): 
It is autumn 1981 when the inconceivable comes to Blackeberg, a suburb in Sweden. The body of a teenage boy is found, emptied of blood, the murder rumored to be part of a ritual killing. Twelve-year-old Oskar is personally hoping that revenge has come at long last—revenge for the bullying he endures at school, day after day.


But the murder is not the most important thing on his mind. A new girl has moved in next door—a girl who has never seen a Rubik’s Cube before, but who can solve it at once. There is something wrong with her, though, something odd. And she only comes out at night....


Warning - contains spoilers: I’m just going to throw it out there right now that the synopsis provided by Goodreads makes the book sound really lame. It’s not. Though it’s dark and, at times, genuinely upsetting (are we noticing a theme with my posts?) it’s an impeccably crafted story that possesses true originality.



Lindqvist paints a heartbreaking portrait of protagonist Oskar, a broken twelve-year-old boy struggling to cope with his parents’ recent divorce and merciless bullying at school. While his mother is physically present, he has no allies, and so is immediately fascinated by the strange girl who moves in next door. Spoiler alert; she’s a vampire. And unlike some vampires I could mention, she’s a legitimate threat.



Though the story of her transformation is never fully clarified, Eli is an eternally adolescent girl forced to consume human blood to survive. Talk about being dealt a rough hand. Her diet isn’t just a preference, nor can it be avoided. If she abstains for too long she will die, and becomes violently ill if she attempts to eat anything else. Because she doesn’t age, everyone she grows to care for eventually dies, and because she’s prone to the clumsiness and moodiness of infinite puberty (yikes), she cannot hunt her own victims lest she leave a mess behind and get caught. Enter Håkan.



Håkan’s character is such a raging, disturbing bummer. Especially when we realize that he’s a reflection of what Oskar will inevitably become.



Drawn to Eli as a lonely adolescent, Håkan ran away to be with her. He developed a science for murder that guarantees both Eli's anonymity, and her dependence on him. Because she is, quite literally, the only “person” in his life, he has strong feelings for her; feelings that are wildly inappropriate when he enters middle age. He’s increasingly jealous of the little boy next door, and has no choice but to continue bringing Eli fresh blood in the hope of winning her affections. He becomes sloppy as tensions grow, and is eventually arrested for murder. He later (before any trial can begin) offers himself as a meal to Eli to ensure that he never sells her out. It’s soon after Håkan’s death, and a brush with death of his own, that Oskar runs away with Eli to begin the horribly depressing cycle all over again.



Contrary to the sparkly allure, hormonal infatuation, and convenient “vegetarianism” of other vampires (and those that they attract), the characters of Let the Right One In are drawn together through mutual, desperate loneliness. It’s one of those stories in which even the villains are so complex that they almost don’t exist. The wrongdoers, like Oskar’s incomprehensibly harmful bullies, only do wrong out of their own desperation. …Be prepared to cry.



The Pros: This book boasts a masterful story arc as well as immaculate character development, and the frequent, flawless execution of metaphor and foreshadowing. It’s also the most “realistic” vampire story I’ve ever read, as though Lindqvist catalogued all possible conflicts and dramas that could arise from the presence of vampires in our world before he ever started writing. Beautifully done.



The Cons: This book also contains several gratuitous scenes depicting pedophilic violence that I feel in no way enhanced or reinforced the story. The only purpose they serve is to disturb the reader, and so I found them offensive and gimmicky. 


Let the Right One In was first adapted to film by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson in 2008. I happened upon it on Netflix on a day when I had nothing going on, and decided on a whim to watch it. This was before I’d read the book or even knew it was adapted from a novel, but I immediately fell in love. As soon as the credits rolled I was on my computer researching the story, and checked the book out at the library the next day.



It’s rare to find a horror movie that can also move me to tears, but Let the Right One In did just that. I was simultaneously frightened by, and felt an insatiable need to rescue, every character.



Because John Ajvide Lindqvist, author of the book, also wrote the screenplay, the film was incredibly true to the novel, and didn’t go overboard with the stereotypical devices of horror film. There was no over-the-top makeup, manipulative music, or scream-inducing monsters jumping out from shadows. And despite 90% of the film falling on the shoulders of child actors, it was surprisingly genuine. Kåre Hedebrant (Oskar), and Lina Leandersson (Eli) were amazing in their roles, despite each only being twelve years old at the beginning of filming.



This movie is deliberate, quietly unsettling, and to be frank, perfect.



Rating: 

An American remake called Let Me In was released in 2010 by director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield). When I found out this was in production, I flipped my proverbial s*** and immediately began bugging my husband to take me on opening night.

While Let Me In was not as true to the book as the original film-adaptation (and didn’t exactly clean up at the box-office) I felt it was a great effort. Cinematically speaking, there was a particular, single-shot scene that just freaking blew my mind. Without giving too much away; “car accident.” Watch and wait.



I think it’s safe to say that Let Me In is more based on the original film than the book itself, and alters a handful of very basic things. The characters Oskar and Eli, now played by Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloë Grace Moretz, were changed to the more generic names “Owen” and “Abby.” I think this was to solidify the notion that these children could theoretically be anyone. And that’s really the genius of this story; the suggestion that there is danger where you absolutely least expect it. It’s a shockingly cerebral story that sticks with you long after it’s over.




This film is beautifully shot and acted – again by exceptionally talented young actors that we would do well to watch out for in the future. The only real qualm I have with Let Me In is that it is more of a stereotypical horror film. There are several points in the movie when Moretz (Abby) looks positively nightmarish. The use of freaky contacts, prosthetics, makeup, and buckets of fake blood do detract a bit from the story. I wouldn’t say that made me love it less, but it did make me love it in a completely different way.

Abby...you're not looking well.

Rating: 

If you’re interested in reading the book, or adding either movie to your collection, all three can be purchased via the links below.

Thanks for tuning in!