Monday, January 26, 2009

Leave it to the Imagination and Review of "Let the Right One In"

I have recently been reading a book called The Shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho: Creating Cinematic Suspense and Terror by Philip J. Skerry. The book gives an in depth look at the shower scene in Psycho. There is a chapter in which he is interviewing Janet Leigh, the star of the first half of the movie before she is killed in the famous scene. The author asks her about her thoughts on contemporary cinema “showing” the audience every detail of sex or violence and whether or not the ending of The Production Code in 1968 contributed to what Janet Leigh thought of as films taking away imagination: “An audience doesn’t have to think anymore, isn’t given the privilege of imagining anymore.” The Production Code was a set of moral guidelines that censored what movies could show that the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA) adopted as what we now know as the Motion Picture Association of America’s film rating system which uses a rating system (G through NC17). The author and Ms. Leigh thought that movies today show all and the audience isn’t required to fill in the blanks with their imagination. For instance you are shown a brief glimpse of a knife coming down toward the girl in the shower and then another shot of it coming back up and then a shot of a mouth open and screaming. There is no shot of the knife going into flesh. We fill in those blanks with our mind, our imagination. When I was talking about this with one of my friends she said “whatever is in your imagination is always scarier than what is on the screen”. I agree with this. In contemporary horror you see the knife enter flesh you see it tear skin, and you also almost always see the monster, whether creature or human. Of course the ending of the Production Code was a good thing and filmmakers should have full control over what they show and not show the audience, and showing a graphic scene doesn’t automatically devalue a film or the filmmaker’s art by any means. It is just interesting to me that the more horrifying movies I have seen only give you hints and glimpses of a monster or murder. I’m going to get more into this later. But first this brings me to my second review of a movie that only gives us hints and glimpses, subtly and at the same time violently.

White, cold snow and silence in Blackeberg a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden is the set of Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In”. This is a quiet, subtle, beautiful yet brutal/violent movie about two twelve year old children and their found bond with one another. The two children are a boy who is lonely, bullied, and has golden hair and a pale face and his friend, a girl, who isn’t actually twelve at all, just stuck in a twelve year old body and mind. She is a vampire. Eli the vampire, played by Lena Leandersson, has an incredible and beautiful face. Her eyes are huge and they have an eerie gleam to them. When you first get a close up of her face you know at once she is a monster; not all human. Oskar, the boy played by Kare Hedebrant, is tormented at school by bullies and finds friendship with the vampire Eli who moves in next door. She has a companion, who is an old man, and they share a strange relationship that later turns sad and lonely as the film unfolds. This vampire isn’t a romanticized one who is seductive or who has the trademark fangs like in “Twilight” or even “True Blood”, the two more recent additions to the vampire genre. She is more creature-like, a monster. There is no full showing of her as the monster however. We only get beautiful hints….

Whenever Eli moves she has these subtle actions or gestures that make her look like she is an animal, quick and light. It seems that gravity does not have any effect on her at times. There is one scene where the two friends walk into a completely dark room and before Oskar turns on the lights you see her eyes glowing as they try to get used to the light. Or, when the boy cuts himself so they can be “blood buddies”, drips blood on the floor. She lets out an inhuman growl like sound and ravenously falls to the floor to lap it up with a tongue that is too long to be human. Eli vows to protect Oskar and tells him to stick up for himself. Her love and protection of him springs out of her an intense vengeance that culminates into such a fierce ending, that after the last shot, I felt an unlikely cross between strong feelings of fear and happiness. This isn’t just a vampire movie, it is so much more. Please, please see this movie. Don’t let the label of horror genre keep you from seeing this quiet, lonely movie about true friendship at its most extreme.

1 comment:

  1. For some reason I got three copues of this though - and I have no time to watch movies, which sucks. What's up with that? Seriously, though, very thoughtful / interesting commentary! I doubt I will convince my wife, but I agree with you, the best horror movies are psychological in nature - for the rest, memorize where "IT" jumps out and you're all set. Twitch films, as our friend Larry used to call them. I never found Psycho so scary, honestly, but I understand your point - I know I've said it before, but this is why The Shining works for me - it's also why (to give an example of a newer movie that does this) Blair Witch was so effective. Holy crap, I remember being totally freaked out the first time I saw it. The camera work was reeaaaaally shaky thought, so one of my friends just got queasy rather than scared. Philistine. Oh well...