A Swedish vampire movie. There. I said it. That’ll put some of you off before you even start, and to be fair the film does move on occasion at a glacial pace, and does revel in its emotional anguish and inner angst, but to concentrate only on that would be a mistake. This is a vampire movie with a heart, and one which steadfastly refuses to be pigeon holed. The parallels with Pan’s Labyrinth make sense in that we’re talking about a mythology which takes place in the lives of very young people in a very real world setting, and it’s a charming mythology. Lina Leandersson’s vampiric, permanently 12 year old Eli really likes and then loves Kåre Hedebrant’s Oskar. He is gradually privy to every aspect of her dark existence, and sees in her a future where he can stand up to the ever more violent class bullies, and even be rescued from them. That Eli’s violence increases the more the bullies’ violence increases, and Oskar becomes ever more numb to both is one of the standout aspects of the film. Because the film is shown almost entirely from his emotional point of view, we’re brought somewhere extremely uncomfortable – this otherwise anonymous 12 year old boy has no other way out, and comes not to mind the murder. He writes it off because of his feelings for Eli, and we’re encouraged to do the same.
Much of the film is left to your imagination. What is the relationship between Eli and Håkan (Per Ragnar), her benefactor-become-serial-killer? He murders young people to supply her with blood and keep her true nature invisible from the close-knit provincial community. She however treats him like dirt – lover? Father? And when he eventually is discovered, is she grooming Oskar to take his place? It’s a film of complicated emotions and competing agendas, of longing and a vampire’s desperate need to connect with what she sees as a kindred spirit. It’s only at the end that you realise just how far she’s changed Oskar – from a lonely, bullied boy, to a child happy to kill and support a killer – director Tomas Alfredson and author/screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist use music, outstanding cinematography and frankly impossibly good performances, particularly by Hedebrant and Leandersson, essentially to brainwash you. That you don’t realise what they’ve done until its all over is a sign that something great was done while you weren’t looking, so drawn are you into these awkward yet sympathetic characters’ lives. If you’re expecting a traditional horror film you’ll be sorely disappointed – we never see any bats, fangs or any normal vampire movie accoutrements for that matter. This is a film about the human condition, and what it uncovers isn’t nice. At all. 8/10