On Sunday I saw a movie called Let the Right One In, and it's lingered with me over the past few days. It's an affecting movie. Maybe not perfect, but in the pantheon of horror movies and in the smaller subset (although it sometimes feels larger) of vampire movies it stands alone. A Swedish film, Let the Right One In is about the relationship between two social outcasts: one, a 12 year old boy, the other a vampire girl who is "12 years old, more or less." Part horror film, part coming of age tale, it's absolutely worth your time, although it's not for the squeamish viewer. For me, it has also served as a point of comparison for just how far videogames have come over the past few years. The advancements I'm referring to are spread over a wide catalog of games, none of them perfect, but all of them significant and in some way resembling the best of what this movie has to offer.
It's good to get perspective on things, especially when you engulf yourself in one medium for a living. And I think one thing that's so appealing about this movie, and one reason it's stayed with me, is that at first glance it feels far away from the medium of videogames. This is odd, because as a genre I think the horror film experience translates well into the videogame medium. They can both maintain a similar kinetic rhythm of build ups to intense action, have fantastic imagery and a general aim in provoking a fight or flight response from viewers.
Almost as an affront to the genre, Let the Right One In has a tendency towards stillness; it lacks the standard jump out of your seat moments associated with horror films. But, in case you're thinking this movie is a melodrama, it keeps one foot firmly in the horror movie tradition as it juxtaposes the mundane with the horrific, the banal and the fantastic. It's a difficult direction, not necessarily in using the contrasts to shock, but in making the two separate worlds of horror and verisimilitude feel real when they're held up next to each other. The film is also able to reconcile these two contrasts in a way that never sat easily with me.
Let the Right One In relies a lot on exposition to tell its story. The camera moves slowly or not at all across dull Swedish landscapes rendered lifeless by snow, unfortunate architecture and some of the blander colors associated with the 80's, the time in which the film is set. Even the scenes of violence are captured by a still camera that doesn't try to edit the viewer into some kind of emotional frenzy. You are, in this movie, an observer instead of a thrill-rider.
And finally it is, like horror movies, and to a lesser extent videogames, very much focused on the physical, both in terms of body horror and in the sense that body language carries so much of the story. But the story that's being told with the character's bodies is a subtle one that focuses on the intricacies of rejection, isolation, ages and emotions. Surely it was dumb luck that allowed the filmmakers to find the one child actress capable of portraying both innocence and antiquity. But what can videogames learn from this film?