Film review: Is it the right one to go out for?
If I was to ask you for a stereotype of a Swedish movie set in the early 1980s, with a title drawn from a song by the well known British king of mirth Morrissey, you might suggest: long, slow, depressing, gloomy, and full of snow. And to be honest, if you applied those adjectives to Let The Right One in – a Swedish “horror romance” currently enjoying a slightly surprising run in the multiplexes thanks to UK Lottery funding support – I’d have to concede that the film really does pretty much tick all those boxes. But I’d also argue that there’s more to it than that.
It’s not actually that long at 115 minutes, but it is slow and you’ll start to think it’s running at least twice as long as the printed running time. I’d be lying if I said my eyelids didn’t droop at more than one point during the course of the film. And yet for all that, I’m not sure I can blame the film: it’s simply that Swedish filmmakers work in a different frame of reference when it comes to pace. They’re not afflicted with the appalling ADHD habits of modern Hollywood and post-MTV; so rather than blame the film I’m inclined to blame the audience, myself included, for no longer having the patience and concentration to properly pay attention to a film where something doesn’t blow up every five minutes.
As a result of the crawling pace, small details suddenly assume an importance that it impossible to achieve in so much mainstream English language cinema these days; characters have time to develop into real people rather than remain the cardboard cut-out of too much modern movie fare. You have time to ponder what the motives are of a character who seems to be there for no purpose, whether it suggests that another character is gay or an alcoholic; and there’s time to get attached to others before they suddenly go up in flames. Literally, in one case.
And it is almost absurdly depressing and gloomy on first glance. Until you look closer and realise it’s actually full of some quite delightful, jet black humour; from the blood-letting in the park suddenly interrupted by a dog that simply won’t go away, to a hangdog vampire’s henchman who is thoroughly incompetent, through to the visual gag of one of the vampire’s victims being retrieved from an icy grave. You might think you’re not supposed to laugh, but you are – and you will.
If you’re looking for Blade-style vampire antics then you’ll leave massively disappointed. But there’s some good moments for horror fans nonetheless, with little touches deftly painted in and the vampire activity never seen fully close up, but chilling nonetheless. Instead it’s all done very realistically and from a distance, or very subtly – such as the moment when we first meet the character of Eli and she jumps off a playground climbing frame … Only she doesn’t fall to earth quite right.
It’s the kind of film that will stay with you, as you ponder certain moments and why something happened one way and not another – it doesn’t spoon feed the audience. And certain moments will come back to you days afterwards – as opposed to too many films that exit the memory almost the second you leave the cinema. But it’s not an easy watch, and many of the audience I saw it with seemed to leave the showing with a baffled “what was all that about?!” kind of dazed look.
It is a quality film, with two brilliant performances by the child leads at the centre of it, and something refreshingly different away from the typical multiplex fare. And yes, there is a lot of snow. But then, as someone who found the beautifully shot snowy vistas to be the only interesting thing about The X-Files: I want to Believe, I was quite happy with that, too.
I’m not sure I’d recommend it to most people unless I was very sure that they would be able to see its merits. But I’m glad I saw it.