In 2008 Sweden, a country which is rarely mentioned in conversations about genre films, produced two vampire movies. On melded the stark landscapes and existential themes typically associated with Swedish films onto the tropes common to cinematic vampires. The other kept the slow pace and dread but threw out all the vampire lore in an attempt to create a gritty, realistic take on vampires. The former, “Let the Right One In”, has emerged as a modern-day horror classic. The latter, “Not Like Others” barely made an impression at home or abroad and rightfully remains little seen.
“Not Like Others” is the movie that many people were probably afraid they were in for when they first sat down to watch “Let the Right One In”: a boring, pretentious film that confuses aimlessness with artistry. It tells the story of two sisters, Vera and Vanja. The sisters drink blood to survive, though that’s where the comparison with vampires as we know them begins and ends. They have no supernatural powers, no aversion to garlic or mirrors and, though they seem to prefer the night, don’t appear to have any particular problem with sunlight. They don’t even have fangs and instead use a pocket knife to open up a vein in their victims. The “real life” vampire has been explored before, most notably in George Romero’s “Martin”, but unlike “Martin”, there’s no exploration of the idea that these girls might not be children of the night so much as delusional psychopaths. It’s just taken as a given that they need blood to survive and the whys and the hows are left unexplored.
The girls have different attitudes towards their unlife. The older sister Vanja wants to live as normal a life as possible, giving up nightlife and murder for stability and animal blood. Vera believes that they will never be accepted and that their nature dooms them to never living among regular people. All Vanja’s hopes of normalcy are dashed when Vera kills a gang leader and they find a mob of Sweden’s roughest hoodlums chasing them through the night streets.
And really, that’s the entire movie right there. The two argue over their lifestyle and then some bikers chase them. Rinse, repeat. Oh, and don’t forget to add in many long silent stretches of absolutely nothing happening. Vera walking. Vanja staring off into space. The audience taking a nap. If you really want to watch an undubbed foreign film but hate subtitles, this is the movie for you. There are many stretches of 5-10 minutes with little to no dialogue. Single-spaced and double-sided, the script for this movie could probably fit on a couple of cocktail napkins. Hell, severely condensed, you could boil it down to: girl kills tattooed guy, drinks his blood. Nothing happens. She talks with her sister and then nothing happens for a while again. Some people chase them for a while until nothing happens once more. Oh yeah, and a cab driver hits on one of the sisters and she kills him, but the killing happens offscreen so that no one will get the wrong idea that something is actually happening in this film.
Due of the serious lack of vampiring, it’s hard to even call “Not Like Others” a vampire movie, though if you take that element away there’s not much left to the movie. You might as well be watching your boring friends’ video of their trip to Stockholm. I’ve no problem with revisionist vampires. In fact, I’m so burned out on the current popular incarnation of vampires that I would welcome a realistic, gritty, street-level view of bloodsuckers. Call me old-fashioned but I’d just like to see that in the context of a movie with an actual plot that advances and characters that exist as more than just broad archetypes.
Outside of the immediate family of the cast and crew, it’s hard to say who would enjoy “Not Like Others”. To be fair, it’s not the appalling assault on your intelligence and good taste that so many stateside ultra-low budget films are. There is the wisp of the theme of youth vs maturity at play, the camera work is competent and some of the acting is quite good. The problem is, it’s all in support of absolutely nothing. The film is the equivalent of a big ball of unflavored, unsweetened cotton candy. Technically there’s something there but there’s not much to it and it’s hard to come up with a compelling reason to even bother with it.