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From Under A Rock: Let the Right One In

April 9, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
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From Under A Rock: Let the Right One In  


So last October I decided to watch 31 horror movies in 31 days leading up to Halloween. My favorite of the bunch (that I hadn’t seen before) was this week’s pick. It’s not in English, yet both times I’ve watched the movie now, I barely noticed because I was so engrossed in the story. That’s a rarity for me as usually subtitles take me out of the experience to some degree. Very few movies have permeated that for me, so let’s take a look at probably my favorite foreign film.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron showed Michael a cultural lifestyle shift with Memoirs of a Geisha. This week Michael takes Aaron out from under the proverbial rock with Let the Right One In.

Let the Right One In
Released: October 24th, 2008
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson
Written by: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar
Lina Leandersson as Eli

Michael Ornelas: I’m a big fan when horror movies are minimalistic instead of insane. This movie let its atmosphere build and had an air of mystery about it all. Top that off with some solid commentary on bullying and the effect it has on the victims, and this movie was too good to pass up as a pick.

Aaron Hubbard: This movie was just a delight for me to watch, honestly. I enjoyed it immensely; the two children do a more than respectable job of carrying the movie on their shoulders, which is a bit of a rarity. And since I honestly didn’t know anything about the plot, I was genuinely intrigued to see where things were going until I realized Eli was a vampire. And man is it refreshing to watch a good vampire movie these days.
Underaged Love, Yet Not Uncomfortable
Michael: While it’s weird to get behind the idea of a young boy falling in love with what appears to be a girl, but is actually a vampire who is (presumably) centuries old, it’s actually executed in a very genuine and sweet way. This, to me, is already a feat of storytelling because it’s so easy to feel distrust at Eli (what’s her ulterior motive?), but I bought into their care for one another rather quickly. There was an authenticity and a chemistry between the actors that made this my favorite aspect of the movie. That’s not a common reaction for me to have to horror, but it’s the reaction I had in this movie.

Aaron: I personally feel like human connection is the difference between a good horror movie and a subpar one. If I don’t feel invested in the lives of the potential victims, then I’m just waiting for them to die and I can’t feel properly scared. There was one point in this movie where Oskar cuts himself in front of Eli, and I was utterly horrified at how this situation could potentially play out. I was pulling at my hair just hoping for Oskar to survive the next moment, and was relieved when he did. Similarly, when Oskar fails to invite her into his house, the consequences of that saddened and frightened me. This is a great dynamic between two characters, and I feel has a much richer meaning because the love they share is almost platonic. It’s about as far away from Twilight as you can get with the similar premise.

Michael: Specifically the scene that could have been the most awkward is when she got naked and into bed with him. They just had a sweet talk and he said he would love her even if “she’s not a girl.” That’s about as pure as love can get. And yeah, the scenes that you mentioned where they showed how far their love went for one another were some of the visual highlights of the film for me. Both Eli showing restraint in the first situation and for her dedication and passion in the second one. Their story frames this film in such a way that almost all of their scenes together are highlights.
Visual Cues
Aaron: At the risk of pointing out the obvious, film is a visual medium, which means that it’s able to say a lot without actually using words. While directors usually try to be subtle enough with props, camera angles, wardrobe and the like so that the audience doesn’t even realize the subconscious effect the imagery has on their brain, I don’t believe that Let The Right One In is an example of this. I believe the director wants us to pick up on the visual clues. The most obvious one is the color red, which is almost always present on screen. Aside from being very eye-catching, red is associated with many things; danger, passion, love, and blood. All of these things are associated with vampires, and in this movie it is directly correlated to Eli. A common tactic is the increasing amount of red present whenever an attack is about to happen, but it is also used for some interesting ideas. Oskar wears a red coat when he is at his father’s, letting us know that his mind is on Eli, and that the thought is comforting. When he finally finds the nerve to strike back against his bullies, he does so using a red stick; Eli has empowered him, giving him the strength to confront his problems. I thought these were really interesting uses of a common visual trope.

Michael: There were also many specifics that you mentioned while watching it to me that I didn’t even pick up in either of the two times I’ve watched this film. It’s such a visually striking movie regardless of symbolism that there’s a lot to take in. I told you that easily my favorite shot in horror history happens in this movie, and it’s up there among the best of all time outside the genre, in my opinion. I’m not going to describe it because I can’t do it justice, so here it is:

It’s about 36 seconds long and it’s a still shot where the frame gets to tell the story. Your eye is drawn from spot to spot and you’re getting so much information and it’s equal parts terrifying and vindicating. And it’s so quiet. It’s eerie the way it’s presented and it’s just perfect in every way. The visual styling of this film is on point at every turn and it’s never in a rush to let the words tell the story.

Aaron: Patience is often a virtue in filmmaking. If someone has the ability to keep me captivated, I appreciate them showing off their talent. It rewards me as a viewer by giving me a chance to participate in the narrative and infer meaning instead of just being told blatantly what’s going on. I was drawn to how slopes and steps were used and shot to give us the impression of falling into a trap, and how squares were all over the frames to reinforce that trapped, claustrophobic feeling. I also loved how Eli would sit at an elevated position on the playground, implying that she was not only distant from Oskar, but much more powerful than him. She has to lower herself and come down to earth to interact with him, which was even cooler to me when I realized what kind of monster she was. I almost want to watch this movie on silent just to see how well the images tell the story.
Michael: My goodness this was sick and disheartening. Outside of the drowning scene at the end, I honestly wouldn’t say that the bullying in this movie went exceptionally far (meaning it didn’t strike me as excessive for the sake of movie dramatization — it felt like a real amount of bullying you’d find in everyday life)…but seeing how far it pushed Oskar was sad and scary at the same time. Many mass shootings in schools are a result of bullied kids and early in the movie when we’re still getting to know Oskar, he’s stabbing a tree with a knife, rehearsing the words he’d like to say to his bully as he fantasizes murdering him. This broke my heart. But at the same time, I felt so elated that Oskar stood up for himself when he swung that stick and hit his bully in the ear…but I was just as terrified by the fact that it meant he had an even bigger target on his head.

Aaron: Films that deal with bullying can sometimes come across as obnoxious PSAs, but I feel this one managed to avoid that trap quite nicely. Possibly because it’s not really the main point of the film. The real story is how Oskar and Eli’s unconditional love for each other manages to bloom in a bleak environment where everyone is hostile and distrusting of their neighbors. But if you can skillfully work in an anti-bullying message in the process, why not do it? I liked that nobody was blameless in that situation; Oskar and Eli have violent natures as well and can’t always control them, and there are enough moments of peer pressure from the bullies that they aren’t totally unsympathetic.

Michael: Absolutely. There are two sides to the coin and Oskar doesn’t come out of the situation a “good” person or solely a victim. He actually got his enemies slaughtered, although I won’t say he’s to blame for that. He absolutely had a hand in their demise though by getting in with Eli, and we don’t exactly have proof that he didn’t ask her to do this for him. I think it came from a protective place more than anything though, and she was just saving his life. We won’t know for sure, but it’s not as cut-and-dry as you might think it is.

The Cat Scene…
Michael: I’ve heard that this was a scene meant to be ridiculous to break up the tension of the movie, but I feel it’s such a tonal shift in ridiculousness that it’s the only blemish on an otherwise-perfect movie. And I completely get its necessity to the story but the execution is so over-the-top that it’s hard not to laugh. Also it’s a shame that CGI wasn’t where it is today in 2008 because I think this could have been pulled off much more convincingly in the present-day.

Aaron: I… actually don’t view this as a blemish. Obviously it could have been executed better, as the CGI cats stand out in a film that’s pretty low budget and thus relies on a lot of realistic effects. But I liked the fact that this movie took an obscure bit of vampire trivia (that cats hate them) and used it, rather than using garlic or wooden stakes or any other overplayed gimmick. I also feel it plays well into one of the themes of the film; that the world can be hostile to things that are different, and won’t even give them a chance to not be dangerous. This woman’s arc was one of the only times I cared about someone other than the main two, and it wouldn’t have worked quite as well without this scene, I think.

Aaron: I really, really enjoyed watching this film. It made me smile, laugh, and actually managed to scare me on a couple of occasions. It’s patient and artful, optimistic but not saccharine. It just felt like someone was taking kids seriously, and vampires seriously. I lost interest a few times whenever we focused on the largely underdeveloped adult characters, but that’s not enough for me to think of this as anything less than great.


Michael: This is such a wonderful horror film where all components just work: the terror, the romance, the drama, the suspense, the commentary…it all interweaves to create a beautifully-shot larger picture. I won’t call the film perfect because there are short spans of time where it fails to hold my attention…and the cat scene.


What’s YOUR favorite foreign horror film?

Next week:

Aaron: Next week, the horror gets a lot more real. It’s not vampires or zombies, but it is a film I’ve wanted to tackle for a long time; Francis Ford Coppola’s legendary war film, based on the novel “The Heart of Darkness.”
Michael: Never seen it, but I bought it for Black Friday because I knew we were going to do this. This is at the top of my list of movies I feel I should have seen already but just haven’t.

Do you love the smell of napalm in the morning?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In

Michael’s Spin on Things is a comedic YouTube product review parody channel in which Michael Ornelas will review ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in accordance to the criteria provided by the spin of a wheel.

In this week’s episode, Michael reviews a broken futon he grabbed off Craigslist.

Hey, if you missed my long, mixed thoughts about Batman v. Superman this week, check it out and see how one DC fan got pushed to the edge of sanity because his favorite heroes can’t seem to be in good movies anymore.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
This film lives in its atmosphere. It creates a vibe of creepiness and darkness that you can never escape, even in the daytime. The only light in the film is the love between Eli and Oskar, and it ends up stealing the show. The horror film is not without its haunting visuals, as it was masterfully shot, complete with a director’s vision coming to fruition. If you’re worried about this being in another language, there is a dubbed version available, but even if you watch it with subtitles, you will absolutely be drawn in.