If I learned anything from Interview With the Vampire (1994 film - and the book) and the Twilight Series (yeah...I know...I feel gross for referencing it, trust me) is that child vampires are a bad idea. Oh not that adult ones are all that great either, but those movies (and books) told us that tween bloodsuckers are abominations who can't control their thirst. Then there is the Kirsten Dunst character in Interview whose immortality traps her in the body of a little girl that she's not so keen on as she "ages".
She not only drinks blood, but she likes to smother herself in it as well.
So here we have Eli, a child vampire who claims to be "12" but then adds she's "been 12 for a very long time." Unlike the child vampires from those aforementioned movies, this one appears to be in full control, more so than any of the adults in this movie - vampire or human (and I'll touch on that point more in a bit).
That's not a knife...
Living next door to her is Oskar, a lonely, habitually bullied and sensitive kid. One night in the courtyard of their apartment complex, he imagines standing up for himself against his bully (Conny), stabbing and yelling at a tree repeatedly when he notices Eli watching him from a distance. Eli has a blood lust in her eyes, but Oskar is friendly and gives her a Rubik's cube which one can assume has just spared his life.
The two become friends while Oskar's bullying problems continue although he does finally stand up for himself which only angers not only his bully, but the kid's older brother as well.
So, did you see the final episode of 'True Blood'?
Eventually Oskar figures out what Eli really is - because as this movie goes to great lengths to show, the kids are way smarter than the adults (again, more on that in a minute) and at first he is hostile towards her for it but eventually softens to the concept.
This picture is a brilliant mix of a tender youth drama and childhood friendship with shocking horror. The scenes between Eli and Oskar, even when he figures out what she is and there is blood involved, are touching and made even more so when they are followed up by scenes involving grisly murder and scares. The location - a blanketed-in-snow Swedish city - is so perfect for this movie. The isolation and loneliness for both of the young characters is further enhanced by the winter season. The snow is almost suffocating with large piles of it covering almost every bit of outdoor life. I could relate to this a lot having grown up in Canada where winter is a large part of life - one that I am NOT a fan of.
Let me finally touch on the issue of the adults. All the grownups in this movie are portrayed as disconnected and completely oblivious of the children and their problems. The introduction of Oskar, shot from behind, has him correctly telling a cocky cop who is talking about his job to schoolchildren how they knew a particular case was a murder and not an accident. The cop is slightly taken aback by Oskar's knowledge, but just as quickly makes light of it, shrugs it off and changes the topic as if Oskar never opened his mouth.
This is what happens when you badmouth Ingmar Bergman in Sweden.
Then there is Håkan, Eli's "father" - or is he? He could be her father, although it seems he's just her protector and the guy who goes around murdering people and stealing their blood so Eli never has to do it herself. This picture wisely never shows any of Eli's back-story or history so we have no idea how long she has lived, or who this guy really is or how they came to be together. Most movies would spell that out in full technicolor detail. Here it would have ultimately hurt the tone and effectiveness of the picture. Also Håkan is a mix of unlucky and incompetent. During one of his killings, he is discovered (unlucky) and during another he makes an epic mistake (incompetence) that costs him dearly.
One has to question what is the deal with Oskar's parents? His mother is around, but not really there. He seems to have a strong relationship with his father (divorced) who lives on a farm, but during a visit his father instantly ignores Oskar when one of his loser friends shows up to drink Vodka and smoke. It's like Oskar isn't even there! Oskar is smart in not telling his mother where the marks from his bullying actually come from because the vibe from the film is she wouldn't really care much anyway. He tells all to Eli without even thinking twice. Again, the kids are way more connected with their feelings than the adults are.
A group of adult friends that hang out together are equally as useless. A moment in a diner where they notice Håkan reading by himself inspires one of them to approach him about possibly joining them at their table as they drink and gossip. Håkan completely ignores the guy, never even looking at him as he gulps down his milk, pays the bill then rudely brushes him off. The man doesn't even seem to notice or react to the fact that he's been treated with absolute contempt. One of these adults is a grown man living in a one-bedroom apartment (in the central complex) with at least 20 cats. The woman in the group later "meets" Eli in a not so pleasant way, but when interrupted by her boyfriend (the same guy who Håkan brushes off in the diner), he seems to not be overly affected by the fact that his woman was just attacked right in front of him. This movie really doesn't like adults much at all but it also has the intended effect of heightening the isolation of the children.
I'm failing Math, English and Science. But "being a jerk 101", I excel at that.
I have problems watching any film involving bullying, and the scenes in this are powerful. The picture doesn't hit us over the head with the fact that Oskar is relentlessly bothered by bullies and instead focuses on a few key scenes to get the point across. The bullies here are not only mean, they are psychopaths in training. Conny constantly refers to Oskar as "piggy" and later confronts him outside of the school and orders his two cronies to whip Oskar with a stick. It is very obvious the two other kids don't like carrying out this bit of cruelty, but do it anyway. Oskar's rebellion against Conny is equally as violent, but given what he has been subjected too, it's almost justified. Later, Oskar is offered a deal by Conny's even nastier older brother as revenge - do something that would most likely kill him, or have his eye poked out by a knife ("an eye for an ear after all"). Here are teenage bullies that has no problem either killing or maiming their victim. This act even makes Conny uncomfortable and you get the sense that these vicious acts of cruelty are being passed down from kid-to-kid with none of the adults any the wiser.
Vampires? We don't need no stinking Vampires!
Two things you can learn from this picture. A) cats do NOT like vampires and B) you see what happens when a Vampire enters a house they have not been invited into. Both are extremely shocking scenes.
Just looking for my contact lens which isn't easy with all this blood.
The ending of this picture - which I won't spoil - is a combination of the tender, dramatic connection between the two children with a bloody and vicious violent act that leaves you torn between wanting to cheer and being horrified. It's part of the genius of this film.
It is a shame that it took me so long to get around to seeing this picture. It's been at the top of my list since it was first released. Somehow, I saw the 2010 American remake Let Me in (Directed by Matt Reeves) BEFORE this one which shouldn't have happened (I'm going to blame Comic-Con for that). The remake is solid in its own right, but this picture is so beautifully directed that it demands attention. If you haven't seen this, drop everything you're doing now and do so. It's streaming on Netflix right now.