Vampires"Let the Right One In" and "Twilight."By Jimmy SoA child falls in love with a vampire in a bloodless, faded town—and you thought I was talking about “Twilight.” Children are getting mixed up in all things superhumanly strong, bloodthirsty, and garlic-adverse. If you have kids, you might not want them interested in sharp fangs, but the silver screen does, and it’s offering not one, but two vampire flicks centered around young adults. So this is what it’s come to: They’re now taking our young, and with such vengeance that the animated television funny “South Park” devoted an entire episode to the epidemic. “Twilight,” based on a vampire romance teen novel better selling than it has any business to be, will attract all-too-willing schoolgirls, and the bloodshed will be inescapable all across the country. But “Twilight” is, by comparison, a warm and fuzzy affair, the earnestly chilling outing being the Swedish film “Let the Right One In.”
Spooky is the promise here: Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), an innocent, flaxen-haired twelve-year-old boy—his criminal instincts strong, he enjoys rehearsing the stabbing death of his tormentors, but let’s assume he’s an angel—befriends Eli (Lina Leandersson), a girl vampire who along with an older man moves in next door. Eli, superpowered and hence considerably less inhibited, encourages Oskar to fight back against his bullies. Eli doesn’t deny herself a few gallons of blood now and then either, and citizens of this suburb of Stockholm gradually get the taste of shechita.
John Lindqvist, who adapted his own novel to the screen, has crystallized his 2004 book to feature little else outside of the friendship between Oskar and Eli, leaving the director, Tomas Alfredson, the task of figuring out what to film during vast silences. “Let the Right One In” waits a long time for something to happen in the nocturnal, refrigerated town. The ground is always snowbound—all the better for the spilling of blood, and when the splattering occur let’s assume the audience includes no viewers in Oskar’s age group. It’s as if the complacent, clueless adults living in the sterile town need defibrillating.
It isn’t always bloodshed that disturbs the peace—two of the best moments in the film involve a woman who’s bitten by Eli but doesn’t die. In both scenes the violence is dangerously close to a bad joke, and there were more than a few chuckles in the theater. In another case, Eli’s gruesome attack is administered with a deafening honk in the soundtrack—the excess works because the fear is real and tragic in those instances: Eli, never ambivalent about her appetite, dines on innocent people. But it all boils over in the climax involving the bullies, because a morally crippled tale has no business settling the score. The grownups might be negligently unaware of Oskar’s plight, but should the boy rely on an uncontrollable, paranormal creature to solve his problems? That unscrutinized premise is more chilling than all of the film’s well-staged terrors. As a film exercise in the techniques of shock that doesn’t ask to be taken seriously, this little Swedish shop of horrors is beautifully shot. Just don’t pretend to know who are the right ones to let in.
As for “Twilight,” it’ll surely send much of the country into a blood-curdling frenzy, so you are entitled to a pardonable curiosity of what all the fuss is about. Seventeen-year-old Isabella Swan (Kristen Stewart), who has disowned the first two syllables of her name, doesn’t much like Forks, Washington, where she moved to from Phoenix, Arizona. That’s understandable—Forks is a small town that’s “under a near-constant cover of clouds and rain.” Rain sucks, and Bella—voicing over an opening shot of a deer preyed upon in the forest of the Pacific Northwest—explains: “I’d never given much thought to how I would die, but dying in the place of someone I love seems like a good way to go.” Excuse me? What was that? We suspect there’s a more impending doom than ninety-percent humidity, and sure enough, her moving speech is all explained if you patiently wait for the better part of the film to be over.
In between, Bella goes to a new school and encounters little opposition on her way to becoming the most popular girl among the kids who are hardest to stereotype. Just one problem: her lab partner in Biology class can’t seem to stand her. The hunk is Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson), so lethally good-looking he’s clearly a model and the winner of the “most Marlon-Brando-like brow” award. Turns out he’s as real as the Easter Bunny—a vegetarian vampire. The thought conjures up images of Dracula sucking at celery stalks. But what Edward means is that he doesn’t drink human blood—a sacrifice that’s such an undeniable turn-on that Bella falls head over heels for him. After far too many close-ups of the two looking miffed, Bella has narrowed things down: “About three things I was absolutely positive—first, Edward was a vampire; second, there was a part of him—and I didn’t know how dominant that part might be—that thirsted for my blood; and third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.” I was absolutely puzzled about something: how is she so sure that Edward thirsted for her blood when she looks, well, anemic? Soon the lovers go steady, complete with Bella meeting Edward’s vampire family at the Cullen home (it’s no Castle Dracula). But the poor couple feels the brunt of the revenant-human romance problems: There’s some silly business about it being hard for them to make out or have sex, and on top of that, a badvampire wants to snack on Bella. Edward saves Bella in time and they go to prom, cementing the fourth thing she can be absolutely positive about: a sequel.
All told, a typical junior year at Forks High School. Unfortunately, I cannot muster up much enthusiasm for what may come in senior year. For one, if the sequel anticipates more monkey fights between vampires—and, on top of that, proper foreshadowing has promised the pitting of werewolves against the Cullens—the action sequences have got to be done with aplomb. Werewolves would indeed bring more diversity—not every pale and brooding model has to be a vampire, and I fear the casting director might have to ring up Tab Hunter next. Pattinson, who, as I mentioned, has an oppressive brow like the young Brando’s, also does his best fashioning his style after James Dean, but he has none of the venom of the two legends. He can’t very well pull that out of his hat—his part has no personality to speak of, and that also applies to Stewart. The tagline says: “When you can live forever, what do you live for?” The answer, turns out, is not much. Edward, who has presumably lived since 1901, has been in high school for—how long as it been now?—oh yeah, 90 years. Bella has no goals except to be with this mope. When Edward suggests that she move away so his undead associations won’t threaten her life again, she freaks out and twitches: “We can’t be apart! You can’t leave me!” All she wants by the end of the movie is to become a vampire. “Twilight” has the fatal flaw that also declawed “Let the Right One In”: The two films subscribe to an airheaded morality, ripe for lampooning. Thank goodness for “South Park.” ♦