It might sound a little like recent coffee-table vamp style exercise ‘Twilight’, but this is a more sinister and ambiguous work. It runs on similar rails to something like Abel Ferrara’s ‘The Addiction’ in that it retools the themes and metaphors that stem from the vampire myth – craving, hostility, impulsiveness, eroticism – and neatly dovetails them with a cool, sort-of-realist examination of the horrors of adolescence and poverty that triumphantly ditches cliché and overstatement.
Tomas Alfredson’s light, subtle direction, combined with DoP Hoyte Van Hoytema’s crepuscular visuals, makes the courtship elements all the more tender and the staccato scenes of extreme violence all the more disturbing. The bashful, impassive hue of the central performances also gives the film an anything-could-happen edge: feelings of anger and desire don’t provoke hysterical outbursts but remain bewildering within the minds of the juvenile cast.
Where the film falters is in its (arguably) reactionary final scenes. There’s an eye-wateringly vicious romantic gesture that celebrates Oskar’s new-found fondness for violent revenge without ever allowing him to step back and survey the absurd amount of damage that he and the young bullies have wreaked. And for a film that takes time to embrace small, tender details, especially in relation to Oskar’s sexual awakening, it does precious little to flesh out the bleak context of his relationship with Eli, when eccentric side characters (including a cat lover who is brutally mauled by his own cluster) are thrown in as madcap story padding. But these are mere quibbles as this bruised and brilliant fairy tale is one of the year’s true originals.