Monday, October 19, 2009

Let The Right One In; Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance

Let the Right One In (2008)
Director: Thomas Alfredson
Country: Sweden

Better late to the party than never. Quite a few months ago, I read the novel upon which this film is based by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who served as the screenwriter in its adaptation to the screen. Simply, the book was great - a well-written, slow-burning, character-based horror novel worthy of comparison to Stephen King's excellent 'Salem's Lot. Of course, positive word-of-mouth aside, I should have known I was in for a treat - because a vampire story that gets its title from a Morrissey song ("Let the Right One Slip In") can't possibly be bad.

I was most pleased to discover that what people were saying about the film were also true, and that it is very much its own animal while remaining faithful to the book. The Swedish setting is shot as an otherworldly, desolate, nocturnal, snow-laden realm of darkness and isolated islands of light provided by streetlamps - the perfect atmosphere for a horror yarn. But while there is a fair share of grisly tension-filled scenes, the best part of the story remains the touching relationship that grows between the lonely boy Oskar and his new neighbor Eli, who, yes, turns out to be a vampire. Young actors Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson do a simply superb job of portraying the tentative, awkward steps towards mutual respect, understanding and love that their characters take while dealing with the complications and horrific truths of Eli's "condition." Their meetings at the snow-covered playground outside their apartment building, their mutual love of puzzles, their connection as fellow outsiders and kindred spirits - they all give the film a real emotional weight, elevating it above regular genre fare more concerned with creative kills and jump-in-your-seat shocks.

I'll shun the American remake, Let Me In, and continue to scoff at Stephenie Meyer and all things related to Twilight - well, except for the good songs I've been hearing from the bafflingly impressive New Moon soundtrack, including the stellar contributions by the Killers and Thom Yorke. But a shirtless Robert Pattinson, vampire Dakota Fanning and glittering skin? You can take 'em, Twi-hards - especially that last one, which seems dumber than ever when one thinks of the hospital bed scene in Let the Right One In. That's what's supposed to happen when sunlight hits the unholy flesh of a vampire. But I digress. No, instead I'll take the conflict between Oskar and his bullying tormentors, complex relationship between Eli and her "guardian" Håkan (simplified in the film - ah well; one can't have everything) and strange yet sweet bond that forms between the two young (or, in Eli's case, seemingly young) characters. It's all true: this one's a winner.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Country: South Korea

Now, in a perfect world, I'd be following up the above review with one for the great Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook's recent vampire film Thirst, which I shamefully missed seeing in theatres. But the Region 1 DVD for it won't be out until November 17th (which, thankfully, is still surprisingly soon). So, I instead decided to fish out from my collection Park's first film in his "revenge trilogy," Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Like a good bottle of wine, the film had aged incredibly well since I last saw it (which was some years ago), and it proved to be quite a rewarding watch. However, that doesn't mean it was an easy one - though excellent, this is one uncompromisingly cruel film, especially when considered next to its counterparts Oldboy and Lady Vengeance. Those films are also quite hard-going in their explorations of revenge and its damaging effects, but at least they offered some solace in their moments of stylistic flair and visual beauty (especially the baroque, decadent, operatic Lady Vengeance). Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance offers no such escape, telling the sad tale of Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun), a deaf factory worker desperately trying to find a new kidney for his dying sister, and Park (Song Kang-ho), the company president responsible for firing him whose daughter is kidnapped in a scheme to get money for the kidney transplant, in a cold, detatched manner that leaves no room whatsoever for romanticism. Park makes it very clear: revenge is a terrible, ugly business that only brings about similarly terrible, ugly results. In fact, so clear and effective is Park here that one almost wonders if he even should have bothered with two more films about revenge. All in all, Mr. Vengeance could be considered the true horror film being reviewed here, as its horrors stem not from ghosts or vampires, but from people caught in a destructive cycle of hatred and desperation. While hard to watch, every minute of it is brilliant.

Now that I've revisited Mr. Vengeance, I'll probably get around to reviewing the other two films in the revenge trilogy before too long - if anything, I just know Lady Vengeance will be a most welcome and fitting treat right around Christmas.


keeperdesign said...

I've been sitting on my "Let The Right One In" DVD, but based on this I'll watch it tomorrow after work. I'll admit, I was really hoping it would live up to the hype but I didn't think it would.

Park Chan Wook is good at piling on the "Oh no he's not going to do what I think he's going to do, is he? Oh my God"-style dread. I haven't seen any of the vengeance trilogy since their initial release, but maybe they deserve a fresh viewing... I'm also sitting on his "Cyborg" movie, which was so universally panned it's gotta be either too weird for words or impossibly good.

Marc Saint-Cyr said...

Good to hear, Eric! Let me know what you think of it.

I also have yet to see "Cyborg," and I share your thoughts on it: it'll either be really fun and nutty, or disappointing and silly.

Lauren said...

dang, I am so mad. I had this DVD in my hand and was going to buy it but then I didn't. Now I wish I did. I will have to go back for it!

Drewbacca said...

Ha. Way to pull out something "obscure" rather than Thirst - which, as you said, is out on DVD now! can't wait to check it out.

Oldboy is still my fav of the trilogy but I think Mr. is second favorite. But for pure beauty I think Lady takes the cake. I think it is high time for me to introduce this trilogy to my girlfriend just so I can watch them again.