So trying to fill the "Buffy" shaped void in our lives, we recently caught up on two bloodsucking vampire flicks, "Twilight" and "Let The Right One In." Though superficially they're pretty similar – young vampire befriends young human being, cue culture conflicts – in approach they're rather different.
"Twilight" wasn't bad, per se, but kind of shiny and vapid. It looked mighty purty – great fog-drenched cinematography of my beloved Pacific Northwest – and the two leads were rather stock brooding Gothic teen lovers but Kristen Stewart in particular lent a bit of empathy to her role. But geez, it's all so bloody slow and emo that I started to feel like I was 17 again myself. Pass the acid-wash jeans and comb my mullet, but I don't want to relive my teen love life that much. Nothing much happens in this story besides Bella meeting the vampire Edward and his family, and suddenly a dash of rather strained conflict is added in the final half-hour. If you'd never seen a vampire movie before, yeah, I guess "Twilight" might work. I couldn't get past the core fact that in this world, vampires were out and about in the daylight. Sorry, you can tweak and twist vampire mythos much as you like and I'm not that put out by it, but taking away the whole creature-of-the-night thing, well, then you've just got pale people with unusual eating habits, don't you? It's kind of like taking away flying from Superman – sure, he's nearly the same, but something big is missing. The thing about "Twilight" is that its central romance could be easily done with just about any other minority group and work. It doesn't really feel vampirish to me.
The Swedish vampire movie "Let The Right One In," on the other hand, is genuinely chilling stuff, not the least because it takes place entirely in a frozen Scandinavian winter. (Red blood on white snow = great visual shorthand that never gets old.) Young outcast Oskar meets the unusual tenant in his building, Eli, a girl who never seems to mix with anyone else their age. In a dreamlike, slow-building way, "Right One" works its way towards revealing what we already knew from the start, but its mood is truly gripping. I guess it's me, but I always find foreign films have a tad more mystery to them than English ones, anyway. The difference from "Twilight" is that I cared about the characters and that the central mysteries of the vampire – eternal life, forbidden romance, night-stalking menace – remain intact, rather than gussied up into a Harlequin romance knock-off. The quiet desperation of a lonely childhood is well captured in Oskar's travails. "Right One" is scary, sad and bleakly romantic all at the same time, which "Twilight" doesn't quite manage.
I can see the appeal of "Twilight" and the books to its demographic, although "Right One" was a far better movie. Between this and "True Blood," which has turned out to be one of the most entertaining shows on TV, it's a good time to dig the vamps.