As a lover of horror movies I knew it was only a matter of time before I sat through the tweener-girl fave TWILIGHT, a prospect I dreaded thanks to my immense dislike of the majority of post-Anne Rice school of vampire stories. Loaded to the gills with whiny, foppish undead who moan on and on about their feelings and shit when they should be savagely tearing into the throats of screaming innocents and showering the countryside with collateral arterial spray, those stories irritate the piss out of me. To my way of seeing it, all that could be said about the sensitive monster was achieved to stunning effect in Mary Shelley’s classic novel FRANKENSTEIN, and even that far back the monster still had the common decency to keep interest up by horribly murdering people between fits of waxing depressingly poetic. The TV series of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER had its share of sensitive monster types, most notably Buffy’s undead and hunky lover Angel (and later a reformed Spike), but that show consistently brought scares and intelligence to the table, often featuring what appeared to be tired horror clichés, but thankfully turning that which appeared predictable on its head (three words: “The Puppet Show”). Then came TWILIGHT, a hugely popular novel appealing largely to tweener girls while also garnering a massive Harry Potter-style crossover audience of all ages, and as I saw what seemed to be everybody who rode the New York City subway system reading it, I knew a big screen movie was inevitable.
For those who somehow missed it, the TWILIGHT phenomenon hinges on the chaste romance between a teenage girl and a vampire boy, and considering how such stuff could be handled on film I expected a movie that, to paraphrase my dear friend Raven Woman, would make me menstruate. Indeed the film is geared to fuel the fantasies of twelve-to-fourteen-year-old females and I am in no way its target audience, but I was surprised to find myself not hating it for the first hour or so and enjoying it as a kinda/sorta WB-flavored high school yarn. It’s all about pasty-but-pretty Bella (Kristen Stewart) moving in with her dad in some overcast Washington state town and starting over at a new high school while her mom and mom’s baseball-playing hubby move to Florida to facilitate said hubby’s baseball career. Now the new kid in school, Bella falls in with a bunch of generic movie/TV high school kids (about whom the less said, the better) but finds her head turned by hunky and also-pale-as-a-stick-of-chalk-in-a-blizzard Edward (Robert Pattison), who happens to be a vampire, albeit a vamp whose family follow a code of not feeding on humans, thus making him relatively harmless (translation: a big, sensitive pussy, and I don’t mean the kind found in “tenderloin” cinema).
It takes Bella most of the film’s first hour to suss out that Edward’s a revenant suckface and it’s kind of interesting getting to that moment of realization, but once that big reveal takes place the movie loses all interest and careens down the toilet at near superluminal speed. There are endless close-ups of longing gazes and meaningful glances with not even a dry hump to be had, and I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but the girls I knew growing up who were of this film’s target age definitely enjoyed moments of reverie that were light-years more advanced than this story’s imagined-by-an-eight-year-old (or a Mormon housewife) romantic scenarios; come to think of it, many of the girls I knew at that age had already graduated to intra-vaginal fingering with eager young bohunks, the kind providing of bare tit and beyond, and most of them were what anyone would consider to be “nice” or “girl next door” archetypes, but those were also the days just before Herpes and AIDS, so I guess it was a theoretically more consequence-free era. Keeping that in mind, I had a very hard time buying into TWILIGHT’s post-millennial innocence.
Excluding the film’s dose of narrative Salt Peter, the sequences that turned me against the movie were the annoying “meet the family” moment when Edward brought Bella home to introduce her to his fellow undead, the idiotic bit that explained why the vamps don’t like to be seen in broad daylight — do NOT get me started on vampires being able to walk about in broad daylight at all, let alone what happens when they do; in fact, that scene is so stupid and awful that it must be seen to be believed — and the incredibly painful bit in which Edward and family bring Bella along for a family game of baseball involving vampiric superpowers. There’s also a subplot involving a trio of suckfaces who merrily feed on human prey, but even their potential to liven things up falls flat and the lone member of the trio who proves to be a direct threat to Bella (in this installment anyway) is really only there to ensure Bella and Edward’s bonding. Thanks, dude. Thanks ever so much.
The film culminates in a fashion that can best be described as “My Vampire Prom Date,” and when all is said and done, TWILIGHT proves to be a cloying abstinence parable that removes the lusty elements that make many vampire stories appealing. But, again, I am not this film’s audience, so my opinion of it is definitely moot; I don’t recommend it for the majority of grownups of either gender or sexual orientation, but that’s merely my opinion. And don’t forget I’ve been known to enjoy “girly” fare quite a bit, such as ENCHANTED, THE CUTTING EDGE, SAVE THE LAST DANCE, EVER AFTER and ELLA ENCHANTED, so I’m not just trying to hate on the femme stuff.
In an odd twist of cinematic fate, 2008 also saw the release of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, a Swedish take on the “boy meets girl, and one of them is a vampire” chaste love story thing, but that film could not be more different from TWILIGHT if it tried to. Whereas TWILIGHT strove to be a pop confection for tweens that worked within the conventions of the relatively family-friendly high school narrative genre, although with fantastic elements thrown into the mix, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (also based on a novel) is immeasurably more bleak and examines a bond born of desolate loneliness rather than gazing-out-the-window dreaminess.
Taking place near Stockholm in 1982, the story revolves around the relationship between twelve-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a quiet and rather solitary boy who is tormented by some cruel schoolmates in an escalating wave of sadistic bullying, and the mysterious Eli (Lina Leandersson), a sad-eyed girl who moves into the apartment next to where Oskar lives. Noting her arrival in the middle of the night with a man we’re meant to think is her dad, Oskar sees the girl move in and notices that Eli’s windows are immediately blocked with cardboard to prevent the sunlight shining in (not-so-subtle clue Number One). The two adolescents meet one dark, frigid night as Oskar sits in his apartment complex’s sparse playground and Eli shows up in attire more appropriate for a spring day rather than the kind of gear necessary for survival in snowbound Sweden. That’s unusual enough, but Eli also displays a physical nimbleness that’s not quite normal, a trait that does not go unnoticed by Oskar, but he doesn’t care so long as he has someone his age to talk to.
As soon as Eli moves in, murders begin in which the victims are drained of their blood, first by what looks to be a serial killer and later some kind of wild animal, but it soon becomes apparent that Eli is a vampire and Oskar is at first kind of shocked by that discovery. But he has come to know and care for the sad-eyed girl, valuing her friendship over his understandable fear of her feeding habits. Several complications arise during all of this, but chief among them is the fallout once Oskar heeds Eli’s advice and violently fights back against the leader of his tormentors, an act that snowballs to a conclusion that would have been horrifying even without the presence of a vampire…
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is less of a horror story than an examination of how two lonely souls find each other in the middle of a literal wasteland, and the two young stars could not have been better cast. Neither kid is a fantasy glamour figure a la a film made here in the States, both looking as ordinary and awkward as kids their age should be, and that factor helps sell the believability of the narrative. While Oskar clearly has feelings for Eli, he is perfectly happy to be with her in a non-sexual way because the connection he experiences with her goes beyond the merely hormonal; it’s a meeting of hearts and minds that is deeply affecting and genuine, unlike anything I saw in TWILIGHT, and the film’s icy location and deliberately slow pacing punctuate the “life” embodied in the relationship of the two kids. Though physically twelve, Eli has been twelve “for a long time,” and the film makes it clear that her un-life has been one long stretch of misery and isolation, constantly moving so she won’t be discovered, so when she befriends Oskar despite her own declaration that it would best for both of them if they were not friends, it has real meaning, and while Eli had her own needs, if ever there was someone who needed a friend, it was Oskar.
One item of particular note is a sequence where Oskar sees Eli changing clothes and catches a brief and innocent glimpse of her crotch, but when I saw the scene I said to myself, “What the hell was that? Is that scarring?” Thanks to the magic of the DVD player’s remote I was able to freeze-frame the shot and given a severe case of the crawlies when I saw clearly that Eli’s female bits appeared to have been mutilated and long healed-over, but no explanation was forthcoming. I did some research and found that in the source novel at some time in the past Eli was the victim of a particularly nasty vampire lord who delighted in cruelty such as manually emasculating young boys… You do the math. That bit of information added a whole new element of tragedy to her story and I wonder why the filmmakers decided to leave it out. Perhaps they not incorrectly assumed a mutilated pubescent pubic area was bad enough and just left it at that… Whatever the case, I’m now interested in reading the book to see what else was excised or changed for the screen.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is and excellent film, but don’t buy all the review quotes about it being “one of the essential vampire movies” or “one of the best horror films ever made;” as previously stated, the film is more of a character study than anything else, and as such it’s great. However, there are no scares to speak of, at least not in the sense that American audiences expect, and the gore is tastefully minimal, being almost totally related to Eli’s feeding, so don’t even think about recommending this to any gorehounds you may know. Well, maybe you should, provided they’re willing to give a chance to a “horror” film that’s all about the slow-paced story allowing the viewer to get to know its characters. BOTTOM LINE: if you're going to choose one of these similarly-themed suckface romances, go with the Swedish one.