Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Let The Right One In

It’s always interesting to see foreign authors’ works of horror, since cultural influences shape so much of a writer’s work. (I’ve always wondered why there aren’t more Latin American horror writers. There seems to be a cultural affinity for horror, but I can’t think of a prominent writer from South of the Border.) I don’t think I’d ever read a horror story by a Swedish author before Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and probably wouldn’t without the hype around the film version of the book (which will never play in Huntsville, since the screens are all full of Paul Blart, Mall Cop). Glad I did.

Oskar is a 12-year-old who serves as the butt of jokes and the object of pranks at his school in early 1980s Sweden. With few friends, he is brutalized by the local bullies every day. He escapes by losing himself in fantasy – and his fantasy is to become a serial killer, and to murder his oppressors. He is morbidly fascinated by the murder of a local boy who was found in the forest, hanging upside down with his throat cut. His loneliness is eased when he meets Eli, his new neighbor. Meeting at the playground at night, they form a bond, because Eli is lonely, too, being without friends for the last two hundred years or so.

Eli is a vampire (although he denies being a true vampire, who has to die and come back) who feeds on fresh human blood. His only companion is Hakan, an adult who guards and serves Eli for an unusual reason – he is a pedophile, and in Eli has a companion who will remain a perpetual child. As Eli and Oskar grow closer, they become solutions to the other’s problems.

This is a cold look at vampirism, shorn of the romanticism found in Anne Rice or Laurel Hamilton. The characters are all at least slightly repugnant, yet Lindqvist is able to use them to say important things about loneliness and the need for a human connection. You find yourself rooting for Oskar and Eli, even though both of them fit some of the definition of a sociopath.

Lindqvist also interprets traditional vampire lore in new ways, such as why a stake through the heart is effective, and why a vampire won’t enter a room without being invited. He offers practical details of the day-to-day life of an eternal bloodsucker. He also manages to take us in the mind of an adolescent child, as foreign a place as the mind of a vampire, probably. It’s interesting to see these things through Swedish eyes.

My judgment is Let The Right One In lives up to the hype, well enough to forgive taking the title from a Morrissey song.


Fran Friel said...

I loved this strange movie, Kent. We saw it on Thanksgiving of all days, and in fact, it has inspired a tradition to do vamp movies on TG from now on. ;-)


KentAllard said...

That sounds like my kind of tradition!