A Parrot among Crows
Lindquist, John Ajvide
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2007
ISBN: 978 0 312 35529 6
You may know this movie as ‘Let Me In’, but it’s the Swedish version (the original version, I should add), which has been sitting in the pile of ‘to be watched’ DVD’s for a good long time. We’re terrible at that kind of thing, the Lad and I – we have probably about seven movies sitting in the pile next to the TV at the moment. I prefer to look at it as ‘seasoning’ them, but I don’t know what I’m seasoning them for exactly… still, to get back on topic, I didn’t even know this was a book until I found it by accident while looking through horror stuff at the Book Depository. Since I knew it was a movie already I tried desperately not to get the edition with the movie poster as it’s cover (God, I hate that. I mean, it was a book before it was a movie, right? So why would you need a whole new cover for it? Are people that lazy that they don’t recognise a movie is taken from a book unless it has a dirty great movie poster on it? Okay… climbing down off my hobby horse now. I promise.), but I failed and settled for the movie poster version.
So, I don’t know, I may have jinxed myself out of liking this movie by being determined to read the book first. I guess I just didn’t want to be seeing the actors from the movie in my head – particularly Håken post-acid-face. There were a couple of really beautiful scenes in this book, so I could see why whoever it was wanted to make a movie about it; particularly the scene with Oskar and the school group on the ice when the body is discovered, and the scene in the church with Tommy and the saltpetre in the baptismal font. But tone is always the thing, don’t you think? I mean, when you’re reading a book, the thing that either leaves me cold or makes me keep reading is the tone, the feeling around the edges of the events. Ugh, you know, that’s a phrase that I use a lot, ‘feeling around the edges’, but it’s the only real way that I can think of to describe that sort of thing. It’s like an emotion that’s not directly described, it’s just there, and in Let the Right One In, it’s a feeling of desolation, of loneliness and the desire for a connection, almost at whatever cost.
Okay, okay, so it’s also a vampire book. What is it with ladies and the fanged ones, eh? I have to say that I am no exception to the craze of vampires, though I like to think that I was kind of riding the wave before they became cool. Hopeless justification, but hey. And just to get this out in the open, yes, I have read Twilight, and I seem to be powerless to resist Sookie and the Bon Temps gang, but mostly that’s just romance dressed up in horror drag – sort of like those cute zombie cheerleader outfits you see around now we’re approaching Hallowe’en. This is not that. Not at all.
I don’t feel like I can comment too much on the writing style of this book because of the translation issue. Just so you know, this version was translated by Ebba Segerberg in 2007. I mean, how can you say that something is well written when all you have to go on is the translated version? It’s enough to me that the story was compelling, and thought provoking, which isn’t something you can say about a lot of books that come under the Fanged Canon. It’s a pretty intricate plot, with a lot of seemingly unconnected characters who are swirled up in several violent events. So I’m slightly concerned about how that plot is going to suffer being told in only115 minutes. We’ll see though.
You know how I said before that I might be setting myself up for disappointment by reading the book first? Well, turns out I was right. Don’t get me wrong, they made a beautiful film here, but damn if it isn’t all the things I hate about ‘art house’ movies; too much scenery, too much brooding silence. Those things both have their place in establishing mood and scene, but there are only so many shots of trees and shit that I can take. As far as casting goes, Kåre Hedebrant was a really brilliant Oskar – he had this really great delivery, and had developed this sweetly confident little swagger by the end of the movie. Actually, I don’t think that any of the acting was weak in any point at all.
And they kept some of the genius scenes from the book, two of which stick in my mind. The first is the sequence when Oskar is staying with his Dad in the countryside; there is a beautiful moment when they seem to have just finished dinner and Oskar pulls his Dads big red woolly jumper off the back of his chair and slowly puts it on. Dad has his back to Oskar, doing the dishes, chatting away, and as Oskar is wriggling his hand out of the sleeve, he lifts it to his nose and breathes in his Dad’s smell. It’s so sweet and vulnerable (and mimics nicely the way that Eli uses her olfactory senses). That moment isn’t in the book, but it’s a nice encompassing short showing of the feeling that Oskar has for his Dad.
The second scene begins a little hokily, the scene with Gösta’s cats leaping on Virginia (played by Ika Nord). For one thing, there didn’t seem to be enough cats to cause her to react in that way, and… okay, I guess I’ve been spoilt, I know you don’t have much money when you do films like this, but come on dudes, even I knew that those cats weren’t real. Have we really come that far since 2008? Well, anyway. The time is a bit whack as well, but that might have just been me. Anyway, the genius bit is Virginia’s death – she knows she’s been infected by Eli, but can’t bear the thought of needing to kill to survive. That is an emotional and harrowing scene, and I think that they caught it pretty perfectly.
It’s hard to be analytic about it, but while it was a good movie, I found some of the actions of the characters slightly hard to fathom. When we watched the deleted scenes after the movie, there was much more bullying that had been cut out. As the movie stands, Oskar seems like he’s having kind of an extreme reaction to relatively mild harassment. Apart from the whipping with the birch, I’m glad that they kept that bit in, but Oskar seems to feel overly persecuted in the movie version. Håken is an odd character in the movie too – his protection of Eli is never explained sufficiently. I had to bite my tongue so hard so that I didn’t tell the Lad what was going on during the movie; afterwards I asked him what he thought of that character and he didn’t get that either. So yeah, I personally found the character justifications a little hard to make out, but the Lad said that he thought it was mostly fine. So maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill there.
Overall, I’d say that if I’d seen the movie first, I wouldn’t have sought out the book. But having done it in reverse, I would certainly recommend the book – there are a lot more intricacies in the plot, it’s overall better told, and everything is more vicious and heartbreaking.