Starring: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl
Running Time: 114 minutes
Score: 8 / 10
This review by consuelo-holtzer-1. Spoilers ahead.
I don't think it does but a warning just in case. Be wary of genre classifications here: to call this a mere vampire film without qualification would be a disservice. A vampire film it is, but one that belongs to a very select club. Midway through, I imagined the ghosts old Bela and Tod Browning hobnobbing with a Mr Bergman, all three of them living up every moment of this elegant little tale of horror. With minimal special effects, no flashy editing and cinematography that leaves its imprint on your mind for days, Alfredson's layered film about cruelty and goodness, exclusion and marginality – for both vampire and human alike – is told through the unlikely friendship of two 12-year-old loners. One, Oskar, albino-like in his white blondness, is bullied at school. The other, Eli, a dark, unkempt and unorthodox girl vampire, teaches him to stand up for himself. In the background is the strange, devoted, slightly bumbling Hakan, Eli's human protector and blood gatherer. He strings his victims up, cuts them open then siphons their blood into jerricans for Eli to drink. He passes as her father. (Is he?)
The film has a strong physical impact. The fatigue and drudgery (and silent anguish) of Hakan's attempts to find refurbishment; the confinement of Eli's agelessness ("I have been 12 for a long time"); the isolation of the dreary suburban setting in the dead of a Swedish winter – all of these are as palpable as the burden of eternity felt by Wenders' two angels watching over Berlin. The film's cadence is that of a macabre Bolero: slow and tame at the beginning, but relentlessly progressing, louder and louder until the film starts to explode in a series of horrific scenes towards the end.
Troubling questions left unresolved only add to the film's richness and depth. Eli's labia stitched shut, her relationship with her protector. Why does he kill in her place? – because she is young? … to avoid a proliferation of vampires? When Eli finally has to find her own blood, thus turning a bitten woman into a vampire herself, the sequences that follow – the cat attack, willed self-destruction – are some of the most striking in the film, frightening enough to make your heart skip a thump. There are two "endings". Alfredson lures us into a false one when he circles the film back to a scene almost identical to that at the opening. But then he playfully tacks on another 10 or 15 minutes in a very different tone. At first this rattled me a bit, but then I came to better terms with it and decided that after all, its black humour was far from a cop out. Reviewers have predicted the film will have a solid festival and art house audience. Personally, I cannot imagine any kind of film-goer not being dazzled by this icy trip through bloodied woods, and where, according to the many reactions to the film, a light "supposedly" shines through. It does and doesn't. The film may be about friendship but the relief provided by the ending is only an isolated moment in time that has resolved nothing. The future that one is left to imagine for the survivors is disturbing at best.
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