Foreign Bodies

Yep, we’re still with the vampire movies, and a while back I watched films from Brazil and Sweden (well, I think that was where they were from – it was all foreign to me).

Eternal Blood (2002)

Once you get past the horrendous dubbing and pay attention to what’s going on here things get really interesting. A group of Goth teenagers engage in a vampire role playing game, but one of them is sucked in too far and believes that the others have really fallen prey to a vampire, when actually all they’re doing is hanging with a local drug dealer and his henchman. The ‘hero’ M steals his father’s handgun and loads up with bullets dipped in holy water, then goes off to sort the nest out, massacring his friends to save their souls. At the end of the film, the boy is imprisoned in a psychiatric unit, while one of the girls, Elizabeth, tells the story of what happened to sympathetic police officers. The final shot introduces a nice note of ambiguity (or perhaps removes ambiguity altogether) by having one victim’s life support fail and then her eyes flick open.

The film does many things very well, such as having totally gonzo scenes in which the vampire role players have public shoot outs with Catholic clergy wielding shotguns, so that we never quite know what is real and what is not, only discovering the truth in retrospect. The same thing happens when we see the story through M’s eyes, in that we cannot know if his version of reality is correct or if he is an unreliable narrator. The characters are all well drawn and played, with sultry sexy undercurrents on the one hand (and the film’s one sex scene blew me away with its rawness) and a strong air of menace on the other (the drug dealer and his hired help are truly scary, and one of the most impressive screen vampires I’ve seen). There are some excellent effects too, especially when M goes to take on the vampires.

The subtext of the film addresses how external factors, such as role playing, drugs and the teachings of the Catholic Church (Catholic imagery runs all through the narrative), can all distort the reality in which we live and have our being, with M as a character who has come unattached from all the things that should hold him steady, such as friends and family (he lives apart from his father, whose interest begins and ends with paying the bills), instead retreating into his own solipsistic world where he knows the truth that everyone else is oblivious to, so in that sense this is very much a film of teenage angst and alienation. Of course, the final twist seems to imply that he is, in fact, correct in what he believes, but then it is a horror film.

Let the Right One In (2008)

I hadn’t seen this film before, or the American remake, or read the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and so came to it not knowing what to expect.

Oscar is a solitary child, living alone with his mother in a block of flats and bullied at school, but too scared to fight back. Then one evening in a snow covered play area he meets the girl Eli, who tells him that she cannot be his friend and who seems indifferent to the cold. They meet on other nights and a bond grows between them, which eventually sees Eli confiding that she is a vampire and Oscar gaining the courage to strike back at his tormentors. Meanwhile people are being butchered and bled out by Eli’s grown up helper, but when the man is caught she is forced to fend for herself, and though he’s reluctant at first Oscar eventually helps her. With discovery near, Eli must move on, but not before she inflicts a bloody retribution on Oscar’s tormentors.

This is a film that does everything right, with a wonderfully brooding atmosphere, an excellent cast and superb if understated special effects. There are moments to creep you out, such as when Eli drops down out of a tree onto a victim, like a giant spider, or when her ‘minder’ hangs a man upside down and cuts his throat. There are moments of shock, as when one victim who has been ‘turned’ is attacked by cats, later killing herself through spontaneous combustion, or what we see of Eli scampering up the sides of buildings. And there are moments when you want to clap and cheer, with Eli coming back to save Oscar from the bullies when they force him to stay underwater in the pool and we fear that he is going to die, only to then see body parts lazily drifting down around him and the water clouding with blood.

The minor characters are portrayed well, with special kudos to the man who played Eli’s helper, the suggestion of paedophilia, that his interest in her is far from wholesome even ignoring the whole vampire thing, put over well, and seen most especially in the way his devotion leads him to sacrifice himself. The bullies who torment Oscar are deftly drawn, in particular the ‘chubby’ blond boy who is almost crying as he hits Oscar, forcing himself to act against his nature simply to keep in with his friends. And then there is the middle-aged couple, who argue and tease each other, but whose love runs so deep that the man is driven almost insane when his girlfriend is taken from him.

The two leads shine above everyone else, in roles that must have been extraordinarily difficult to act, especially given that they were the same age as their characters at the time of filming. At bottom the film is a love story, two twelve year olds finding each other and forming an attachment. What mustn’t be forgotten though is that while Oscar’s innocence is genuine, Eli might have the body of a child but in actual fact she is a vampire of several hundred years, and totally ruthless when it comes to protecting herself. We see her true nature when she abuses her ‘minder’ for failing to bring her blood, and in the way in which she kills, without remorse, simply satisfying her hunger. And she is not above using her sexuality to manipulate others, as when she climbs naked into bed with Oscar and cuddles up to the boy (there’s a scene where Oscar steals a quick glance at Eli full frontal, and I do hope an adult double was used for that.) At the end they are on a train together, Eli in a trunk and Oscar tapping the side, and the subtext seems to be that he is to be her new minder, helping her survive in the world, so that we can wonder exactly how much of her affection for him is genuine and how much simply a ruse to win his loyalty.

I think I might have found another vampire film for my Top Ten.

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