Friday, October 14, 2011

Scariest Characters in Cinema #20 - Eli

Once I referred to the movie Let the Right One In as a sweet movie, and the person I was talking to said, "I wouldn't say it was sweet." Well, I said sweet and I meant it - Let the Right One In captures in aching detail the feeling of being a weird, lonely kid who, for the first time, thinks he's found someone who understands him. Based on the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist and set in a small town in 1980s Sweden, the film is about 12-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), who secretly acts out violent revenge fantasies against the schoolyard bullies who are cruel to him in the way that only kids can be. Oskar begins a tentative friendship with Eli (Lina Leandersson), a mysterious girl who lives in his apartment building, only comes out at night and isn't bothered by standing barefoot in the snow. Eli at first tells Oskar they cannot be friends, but eventually they start to form a peculiar sort of bond. She encourages Oskar to stand up for himself, and he helps her to have more fun being a kid. Which she's not, of course - she's a vampire who feeds on the locals, she's hundreds of years old and, as she informs Oskar, she's not even really a girl. None of this matters in the long run to Oskar, of course. Love is blind, particularly first love.

Eli is a sympathetic character, but she's also very monstrous and frightening. While we mostly see her as a beautiful young girl, director Tomas Alfredson perfectly times brief glimpses of the monster inside Eli. Her voice and face distort themselves subtly, only for moments, and we're reminded that Eli is primarily driven by her insatiable hunger. In Eli's human helper, a sad-eyed man in his fifties named Hakan (Per Ragnar), we are given ominous hints of what will happen to Oskar if he sticks with Eli. It's difficult to determine how much Eli is depending on Oskar to survive and how much she truly cares for him, but their relationship is a perfect metaphor for young love as a result - they boy's getting used, and he loves her for it. The title, taken from a Morrissey song, refers to the rule that vampires need to be invited into your home, and it's also an important word of caution to anyone falling in love. Besides, Eli is there for Oskar when it matters (those of you who have seen the movie know exactly what scene I'm thinking of). Matt Reeves' remake Let Me In is worthy transplant of the original to the American idiom, with strong performances and a stunning sequence set to Blue Oyster Cult. But Alfredson's original is one of the best films of the past decade, a movie that becomes deeper, more moving and more chilling every time I see it.

Also, it's like a thousand times better than Twilight.

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