Contemporary Gothic often times differs from the traditional in its play of the family dynamic. Classical Gothic often time portrays the dark father figure (Frankenstein, Dracula, etc…) as the destroyer of the traditional, playing up the importance of the patriarch to the salvation of the family and the protagonist (who often times is himself a patriarchal father figure). Indeed, in Dracula, there is a battle between two father figures, Dracula—the outsider, corrupter of the family who flaunts virtues and values traditional to Victorian culture, and Van Helsing, the good father figure who represents the modern, virtuous values of healthy society. Of course, we know in this battle, that the virtuous Van Helsing is destined to emerge victorious.
And still, It is inevitably Jonathan Harker, who arrives as the replacement to these figures –good and bad, as the virtuous male head of household, and saves Mina and destroys the evil patriarch. He is the representation of victory of the modern and the virtuous over the old, dark and decayed past.
In much of modern Gothic, the battle between the old and the new is often familial. Families are portrayed as corrupters. The decay which must be fought is the decay of the family unit that must be challenged and the old definition of family is often redefined in the modern sense. This is true for Let Me In and seems to be the major theme that plays out through the film.
In Let Me In, there is a strange dynamic going on. Our little protagonist, Owen, is a young man facing family troubles and a difficult life at school. Never minding the obviously over-done “bullies at school” theme that seems to be in every movie these days, it is an interesting study in contemporary Gothic stories.
Owen is connected with Abby, a vampire who must live life eternally at the age of 12, who figuratively, wars for control of the boy from his mother (and her broken marriage)—the very representation of a familial train wreck. The movie challenges the family structure and casts the family itself as the decaying, dark thing that threatens to overwhelm the innocent and virtuous. This is further exacerbated by a societal structure that feeds on the weak and crushes the good. The movie seems to accept that idea that killing and destruction is an acceptable solution to the travails of youth today—that to overcome this monstrosity of a society, we ourselves must become monstrous in our cleansing of it.
Enough of all that psychobabble, I guess. The stuff that’s really cool to me is the setting and the world in which these two kids exist. There is a healthy play on the sublime—nature in all of its dangerous splendor. Cold and beautiful and omnipresent, there are towering mountains and pristine woods, the very nature of which remains unchanged and overbearing while the lives and deaths of insignificant humanity plays out under their magnificence.
There are dark tunnels and structures (in the form of old and un-tended apartment complexes, and school buildings and gymnasiums) that seem to take on a life of their own and bring the overbearing, decaying nature of the boy’s family and friends relationships explicitly emphasized in their dreariness.
And a Vampire—a murderous, killing thing that is vicious in its desecration of the protagonist’s miserable life. In this Gothic movie, however, the Vampire—a young woman is the savior of the protagonist, taking him away from a life of pain and horror too deep to truly understand. She is the both the killer and the savior—a feeling, conflicted killer-by-necessity. Still, she is a vampire and her destruction of all of the trappings of society in order to save the boy and herself is an interesting play on the need for change, and the need for youth to completely destroy the structures of an older, more corrupt and dark generation in order to survive.
All in all, I liked this flick very much. I like the dark, the tunnels, the sublime feelings inherent in the wilderness scenes and—of course—the Vampire. Besides what’s better than a little bit of Gothic in our horror–Oh, thats right–a lot of Gothic.
God’s Speed. I’ll keep a lantern lit.