Flicking excitedly through this year’s London Film Festival programme, cinema-goers might have understandably winced at the sight of Let Me In. Not only is this yet another vampire movie but it’s an American remake of Let The Right One In, the much-loved Swedish film recently voted the 8th best horror movie of all time. Surely no good could come of this.
Wince not, however, for writer-director Matt Reeves has done a fine job with Let Me In, transposing this dark coming-of-age tale from icy Stockholm to equally icy New Mexico. Fans of the Swedish original might be alarmed at the horror-by-numbers opening scene, but it’s not long before the film settles into its cool, unhurried groove. Visually, Reeves’s film is a murkier, uglier affair than Tomas Alfredson’s original, and Let Me In can’t match LTROI‘s elegant sound design and score, but Reeves manages to inject a level of tension and credibility lacking in the original.
Focusing on an alienated child who finds a fairytale escape from everyday problems (parents, divorce, bullying), Let Me In makes a nice companion piece to Spike Jonze’s underrated Where The Wild Things Are, released last year. Both films have the guts to take the magical or supernatural seriously, both share a tactile, sensuous aesthetic and both are seen through the eyes of the young male protagonist. Yet Let Me In rejects sentimentalism more emphatically than WTWTA. The tentative romance between the lonely 12-year-old Owen and his strange new neighbour, Abby, is touching rather than icky, and the end of the film is more a case of killing and clearing off than hugging and making up. Quibble about this or that minor change if you like, but Let Me In is a far better movie than most would have expected. Whether it will be a hit or not remains to be seen, but Reeves has made a brave adaptation.
Equally brave but rather less brilliant is Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, which had its British premiere last Friday. Natalie Portman plays Nina Sayers, a talented young ballerina who unexpectedly lands the part of the Swan Queen in the company’s forthcoming production of Swan Lake. But as the pressure on Nina mounts, her already fragile mental health deteriorates. Will she be able to keep it together or will she succumb to the forces, both real and imaginary, which threaten her?
The film is an odd mix of cliché and originality. On the predictable side of things, we have Nina’s domineering mother, a failed ballerina trying to live out her dreams through her daughter, and Lily, the drug-taking, promiscuous new addition to the troop. Where Nina is obsessed with getting every step exactly right, Lily is her opposite, dancing imprecisely but with passion. Worst of all is the ballet company’s director, Tomas (Vincent Cassel), a supposedly charismatic, domineering frenchman who spouts guff like “Perfection is not just about control, it’s about letting go.” It’s as if Tomas has learnt to direct simply by listening to “Lose Yourself” by Eminem—his dialogue can be boiled down to: “You better lose yourself in the music, the moment, you own it, you better never let it go, you only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow.”
Yet despite all this silliness, it’s hard not to be impressed by Aronofsky’s disregard for strict realism. The ballet sequences and Nina’s fantasies are powerfully rendered, and the whole film careers along with a terrific intensity, underpinned by Portman’s convincing central performance. So many influences and ideas flutter about during the course of the film that Black Swan often threatens to buckle under the weight of its own ambition—but this seems weirdly appropriate for a film which itself focuses so intently on ambition and obsession. In the end, however, given its vaguely self-important tone and weighty subject matter, it is not quite as brilliant as it needs to be. Black Swan never soars, but at least it isn’t a total turkey.
While Black Swan constantly plays with the “is it real or is it a dream?” conceit, Aronofsky generally keeps his story gripping. The same cannot be said for End of Animal, a low-budget post-apocalyptic Korean film, in which a pregnant woman finds herself stranded in the middle of nowhere with only a few threatening oddballs for company. End of Animal has a genuinely surreal atmosphere, but watching this debut film from director Jo Sung-Hee is a soporific experience—rather like a stranger telling you about this weird dream they had last night. For two hours.
Shorter, but only slightly less sleep-inducing was Jean-Paul Civeyrac’s tale of two teenage girls who enter into a suicide pact, Young Girls In Black. Civeyrac handles the key scenes sensitively, but the depressed central duo aren’t terribly interesting and the film lacks the spark needed to elevate this tale of teenage ennui above the ordinary.
There’s a potential hit in store this week, though: the big film is 127 Hours, Danny Boyle’s account of the ordeal of Aron Ralston, the climber who had to chop off his own arm after an accident. The film received a standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival despite its grisly amputation scenes, which caused various audience members to faint.
Also coming up is Infiltration, an adaptation of a classic Israeli novel that follows a platoon of aspiring Israeli soldiers at an IDF boot camp in the fifties, and Dear Doctor, the latest film from the “foremost Japanese woman director of her generation,” Miwa Nishikawa, about a village doctor who doesn’t know how to practise medicine. Hopefully capping it all will be Somewhere, Sofia Coppola’s film about—yes, really—the existential angst of a Hollywood star. Surely such a facile premise deserves the benefit of the doubt…