by Allan Fish
(Sweden 2008 114m) DVD1/2
Aka. Lat den Ratte Komma in
Twelve years, eight months and nine days
p Carl Molinder, John Nordling d Tomas Alfredson w John Ajvide Lindqvist novel John Ajvide Lindqvist ph Hoyte van Hoytema ed Daniel Jonsater, Tomas Alfredson m Johan Söderqvist art Eva Norén
Kare Hadebrant (Oskar), Lina Leandersson (Eli), Per Ragnar (Hakan), Henrik Dahl (Erik), Karin Bergqvist (Yvonne), Peter Carlberg (Lacke), Ika Nord (Virginia), Mikael Ramm (Jocke),
We live in a world where vampires are cool and they have been since the days of Anne Rice and Joss Whedon. On TV alone, one can think of True Blood, of Human Nature and even an episode of Doctor Who. Then on film the gormless Blade films and the terminally bland teen candy that is the God-awful Twilight series, compared to which even the Harry Potter movies seem like masterpieces. Into this pit of recycled regurgitations we have Tomas Alfredson’s film of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s celebrated novel.
It’s set in Blackeberg, a suburb of Stockholm, in 1982, and centres around the existence of a small boy, Oskar, bullied at school and desperately in search of a friend. His only friend is a young 12 year old girl, Eli, who he only sees at night, hanging around on a climbing frame in the courtyard of their apartment block. She lives with a middle-aged man and lives very reclusively. The reason being of course that she is a vampire and that her guardian is getting closer to being captured following a series of killings in which the victims’ blood is drained for Eli’s consumption. Rather than being just 12, she’s actually been 12 for over 200 years.
Adolescent films are traditional fare in Scandinavia and, amongst the nostalgic fare lapped up in the west (say, Hallström’s My Life as a Dog), there’s grittier fare (such as Andersson’s A Swedish Love Story, Moodysson’s Fucking Amal and Christensen’s Razone). The essences of darkness and the loneliness of school life are there, not least in the form of the bullies who torment Oskar, and yet Lindqvist and Alfredson’s film, in showing something altogether darker, highlights the persecution of bullying all the more. Amongst various violent and bloody sequences, the most terrifying is undoubtedly that where Oskar is cornered in the school pool by the bullies and one’s psychotic elder brother. So here’s the paradox, Oskar isn’t frightened of vampires, for what are they to him but soul-mates, fellow outcasts from society. The bullies are what scares him, and though the bullies get theirs in a stunningly shot retribution, the terror they invoke in Oskar remains in similar treatment meted out to millions of kids around the world. Nothing is scarier than school.
Essences of modern vampire culture are embedded into the film that will raise a smile, such as the not being able to enter a room uninvited, but for all its gory detail, not least a sequence of voluntary immolation by a woman bitten by a vampire and savaged by wary cats, it’s an eerily beautiful film. The bleak wintry setting is splendidly utilised, not just in shots of blood falling on snow, the apartment block superbly Kieslowskian in its anti-aesthetics. The period detail is, one assumes, accurate, and at the heart are two excellent performances from the central duo. Hadebrant, with his blonde locks, looks like a prototype loner, and his inner sadness is most heartbreakingly evoked in the scene where he visits his estranged father, who’d rather drink beers with a visiting friend than continue to play a game with his son. If one remembers anyone, however, it’s got to be Eli, and Leandersson manages a miraculous mix of childlike loneliness and a world-weary sense of the inevitable, that she will outlive all who she comes to love. Anyone who watches the sequence where she shows Oskar what will happen if he doesn’t invite her in, and doesn’t feel it, may as well give up now and go back to something gorier and wholly more disposable. This is a vampire movie for grown-ups, with an ending that leaves it open not for a sequel – perish the thought – but endless interpretation.