A look back in time here for the Halloween season, with a revisiting of this little gem of a horror film which has become something of a cult classic since its release, and like many successful foreign films, has spawned a shiny yet mediocre American Hollywood remake, I guess for those who struggle to read subtitles.
Now the film’s premise, a little boy befriending a vampire girl next door, is not something that I would usually opt for, especially as teenage angst-ridden vampires seem to be ten a penny these days, but director Tomas Alfredson’s subtle and often tender film tells a much more personal and genuine tale than you may expect.
The weight of this movie’s authenticity rests easily upon the shoulders of the two young actors, Kare Hedebrant as the young bullied boy Oskar, and Lina Leandersson as the ill-fated love interest, Eli. Both characters are outcasts, imprisoned in their own cold and bleak existences and inevitably they become each other’s escape. The child actors are incredibly pleasing to watch and both demonstrate notably unusual and haunting nuances about them.
The horror of this film doesn’t just come from the gore necessarily, which is skillfully and thought-provokingly shot, but we find it more in the dread we feel for the two main characters. The bullies at Oskar’s school bring a certain amount of horror and trepidation to the screen, we fear for Oskar, and the unflinching cruelty of children. And, as Eli’s guardian goes into the night to routinely murder and gather blood for her to feast upon, we witness an act as void of malice as it is of emotion, which is effectively harder to comprehend than simple mindless violence would be.
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Director Alfredson easily nestles the tenderness of these fragile children’s lives with the stark and brutal violence that comes hand in hand with the curse of the Vampire. Cinematographer Hoyt Van Hoytema’s artful use of capturing light in darkness is a technique used in the movie to mirror the light of the children’s friendship within the darkness of their own stories.
There is a beautiful and intimate attention to detail in the directing. One scene in which the two young friends tap Morse Code through the thin walls of the apartment includes a stunning shot which focused perfectly on the precise spot where the boys fingertips as they strummed the wall. The revenge scene at the film’s climax is also masterfully shot from beneath the surface of the swimming pool, a good example of shrouded violence being so much more powerful and clever than the blatant graphic violence that so many filmmakers feel the need to subject us to.
Some will find this movie slow of pace, and that may put a lot of the gore fans off, some would have read the book – which I haven’t, but I understand that translation from book to film is often diluted and pale in comparison. But as the film stands on its own, without having read the book or having watched the remake, I found it to be an intriguing story, superbly shot and wonderfully acted, especially by its young stars, and a film I can enjoy time and time again.