Monday, June 20, 2011

My new anti-bullying campaign

So, I have heard lately on the TV and suchlike that bullying is a Very Big Problem, and I know this because the interchangeable CNN ladies had their Very Serious faces on. Then I did some extensive research  Googled some things very quickly and saw that there are a lot of anti-bullying programs out there now, mostly with names that incoporate extraneous Zs and numbers instead of letters, which I can only surmise is an attempt to mimic the way KTD (Kids These Days) are talking, which as anyone whose adolescence is still a painful memory can tell you, never ever works, because they can sense inauthenticity like sharks can sense blood in the water.
So, instead, my modest proposal is that you sit them down and make them watch Carrie 2 and Let Me In, and then explain that when you bully someone, you run the very real risk of being decapitated by a murderous psychic or dismembered by your victim's undead friend. Makes the hilarity of that wedgie not worth it, huh?

You may remember my polemic against Let Me In, the remake of the Swedish film Let The Right One In. Well, you will be pleased to know that in the interests of Research and Science and Generally Improving Humanity's Lot, I finally got around to watching Let Me In this weekend. That's me - so timely!

Actually, considering the three together - the American remake, the Swedish film, and the original novel, is very interesting, and (I think) rather revealing about American audiences' squeamishness about certain types of violence. Not that we're sqeamish about violence (Saw I, II, III, IV, and...V? Hostel I and II, Turistas, ad nauseum) but only very particular forms of violence, preferably against bikini-clad coeds and frat boys, but violence against children remains something of a taboo in American movies, unless you get around it by having said kid be demonically possessed (The Exorcist franchises, The Omen series, etc.) or vampiric (Interview With the Vampire).

Let Me In borrows heavily, cinematographically speaking, from Let The Right One In, and several scenes are shot almost identically to the original film. But, although the American version is much shorter than the Swedish version, it seems to drag during the quieter scenes that made Let The Right One In such an unsettling joy to watch. The premise is still the same - Abby (originally Eli) moves into Owen (originally Oskar)'s apartment complex one night. Owen, a pallid and undersized boy tormented by a trio of bullies, is desperate for a friend, desperate enough to overlook Abby's stench and habit of coming out only at night. Abby lives with a creepy old man, who obligingly kills and drains local teens to feed Abby's blood habit, although he's nearing the end of his usefulness. A town detective, possessing the requisite double-bridge aviator classes and bad 'stache of the film's early 80s era, is soon poking around Owen's apartment building and asking all sorts of unwelcome questions, especially after Abby unwisely attacks a woman in the apartment's courtyard.

The American version is altogether more wholesome and less creepy than the Swedish version. In Let The Right One In, Eli is simulaneously more menacing and more pitiful. Hakan, Eli's guardian, is a pedophile willing to keep Eli alive in exchange for being near him (right, that's the other thing - Eli is actually a boy, something that Let Me In skates around but is ultimately unwilling to confront. Viewers of the original will get it, others will just be baffled.). Eli isn't menaced by the local constabulary, but instead by a middle-aged, alcoholic Swede, part of a group of singularly pathetic local drunks, one of whom Eli kills. Since alcoholics are generally not known for their extremely tight grip on reality, Eli's in real danger, since Jocke is perfectly willing to sharpen a stake and do some daytime hunting. The feeding scenes in the original have a grittiness that Let Me In lacks, particularly in its reliance on CGI fight scenes between Abby and her prey that are wince-inducing in their clunkiness.

Let Me In also has an obsession with evil that the original lacked, which could probably be blamed on Sweden's very European disinterest with matters of religion. Owen's apartment has little pictures of Jesus and Mary everywhere, and he even makes a distraught midnight phone call to his absent father to ask if he believes evil exists. Of course, in the grand tradition of horror movies featuring kids, adults are mostly absent and pretty useless even when they're there - Owen's mother is only an inert form on the couch or a blonde ponytail at the principal's office. The audience never even sees her face.

The two versions diverge most sharply at the end. In Let The Right One In, Oskar and Eli ride off into the sunrise together (well, Eli's in a trunk) after the unlamented death of the scabrous Hakan. It's sweet and oddly hopeful, misfit and undead headed off to a bright - in a manner of speaking - future together.

In Let Me In, Owen finds a little strip of photo booth pictures of the ageless Abby and her elderly protector as a boy. Tormented, shabby, and now useless to Abby, he's promptly dispatched after botching his last murder. Owen willingly assumes his role, but as the two of them leave the town behind, Owen's future seems very dark indeed - a lifetime of seedy apartments, aging, and death in service to someone who will eventually suck you dry and leave you.

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