Friday, 19 November 2010




Occasionally, a film makes you say something aloud, or shout something at the screen. Oh, I have seen people calling advice and names at “EastEnders”, cursing the news, but that’s not what I mean. I have heard stories of audiences shouting at screens things such as “I would kill that guy!” and so on, but that’s not what I mean. I am talking about something even more primal. I am talking about when the film you are watching and all the elements - sound, vision, mis-e-scene, pacing, atmosphere, characterisation, etc - coalesces into pure story and all the elements hit the right note suddenly you realise how film reaches places you maybe never quite knew were there in a film. And you say something out loud because you are delighted and in awe.

I was watching “Let The Right One In”, with love, soaking it all in, thinking what a brilliant horror and brilliant bildungsroman it was… I was totally invested in Oskar’s situation, fearful for him as a victim of bullying, as a somewhat naïve and sweet soul, fearful of him as his unresolved need for revenge seemed to tap into the latent psychopath squirming in his gut and the hand that held the pen-knife. His relationship and investment in Eli, who remains impregnably enigmatic, was fraught with danger and gore and alive with affection and loyalty. But how were they going to resolve it?

Horror endings, especially, are notoriously weak, disappointing, stupid. I am a horror fan, but it’s the truth. But I had not read Lindqvist's novel, so I had no idea how it would sort itself out, or not.

And then: the pool scene.

The bullies have contrived to corner unsuspecting Oskar in the pool, where he is trying to do something for himself (now that Eli has gone) by learning to swim. They, on the other hand, have come to punish him for whacking the chief bully about the head with a stick, costing him his ear. Chief bully has brought along older brother, who is evidently of a more murderous nature. Chief bully’s henchmen don’t seem so sure, seemingly equally scared of carrying out the increasing cruelty and scared of not doing as they are told and losing … status? Power? Comradeship?

Then there is only Oskar and the four bullies, no one else, and the brother is holding his head underwater. Eli the vampire is conspicuous by absence.

Oskar is in slowed-motion underwater, drowning in dull pool blue. All is quiet. The brother has discovered his capacity for doing the unspeakable. The bully henchmen are slowly being traumatised by their complicity, not really having that same capacity, but in too deep. Oskar is drowning and we are underwater with him, watching. Bubbles float. And…

Wait. What was that noise? Huh? Wait!..? Is that… is that screaming? We are still underwater so all other sounds are muffled. The brother’s hand still grips Oskar’s hair, pushing him under. Then a foot flies past the screen…!! Two feet are flying across the pool, just under the surface of the water, kicking!!

And it was at this point that I said to the screen, out loud and clearly: “Oh my God.”

Because my jaw my dropped, my heart in my throat, my sense of drama, film, story and horror in my throat too. Oh wow. It seemed to me that, rarely, does a film find the totally right way to film a moment, that it was rare to see such a horror scene – a vengeance scene, a slaughtering, the horror money-shot – filmed in such a way.

So: trying to disentangle the sounds that are muffled to work it out. Oskar still floats, half-dead perhaps. Oh, what a perfectly pitched scene: pure cinema, pure horror – all about what you don’t see, triggering the imagination, trusting the audience, focusing on what matters – Oskar’s life! – whilst not skimping on the horror. A decapitated head falls into the pool distance. Jesus. Crunch! The hand holding Oskar down becomes detached and falls away with its disembodied arm. Oskar hasn’t even seen, his eyes closed. It is like he is dreaming all the vengeance, or like he has summoned it. Perhaps he has.

Now a hand reaches in and gently lifts him out. He drifts to the surface.

Above the surface comes Oskar’s head. He opens his eyes and he is looking into those of Eli. He smiles. Yes.

And then: a wide-shot of the pool: in the distance, the headless body draped over the side of the pool: the body of the bully henchman who, really, had he taken time and listened to conscience, could have been a friend to Oskar and saved them all a lot of grief… perhaps. Perhaps he really was that mean and treacherous. Hard to tell. Another of the film’s perfectly maintained ambiguities and mysteries. In the foreground, the ravaged corpses of the chief bully and his brother and, to the side, the other henchman, still sitting where he had sat earlier in terror when realising they were going to drown Oskar, and he is quietly sobbing.

Chills, thrills, drama; horror through sounds and hints but never holding back on the gore either. Such a fine balance. A scene bringing Oskar’s vulnerability to breaking point, never losing sight of him, and in that, never trivialising the albeit mostly off-screen slaughter as merely a shock-piece either.

And when he smiles at Eli, that is it. It is the best and the worst thing ever for him. He is simultaneously found, safe, lost and salvaged by horror. Should you care about such things, it is a cinematic moment transcending genres, one that proves that horror can be rife with both gore and humanity. A film that keeps me rooting for horror as a genre capable of reaching places unlike any other. And one of my favourite scenes.


Philip said...

Yes, indeed. I don't think anyone who's been on the wrong end of a school pecking order could fail to relish the pool scene, and you're absolutely right: few films, and even fewer horror films, let alone vampire films, manage such a note-perfect ending.

Buck Theorem said...

Philip, I am not sure I conveyed just how horribly cathartic the pool scene is. I always felt the bully henchman who gets dragged across the pool really didn't deserve his fate... but that sense of injustice in the massacre is just another troubling abiguity the film so wonderfully deals in, plus never losing sight of a basic humanity and empathy.

A note-perfect ending is always, always soemthing to celebrate.