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6:42 a.m. - 2023-05-21
"To be a servant is the price for not being a victim." Roger Ebert
"There are far worse things awaiting man than death." Dracula

On a date financed with money stolen from his mother's purse, Owen takes Abby to a video game emporium, where they play Pac-Man, a game that, ironically, is about eating (preying) as much as possible while avoiding capture. He offers Abby his favorite candy, Now and Thens, which she at first refuses. But when Abby realizes how important it is to Owen that they share his favorite treat, she complies, even though she knows it will make her sick. Owen, unlike Kenny, shows immediate empathy for Abby's suffering, embracing her. Later he confides to Abby how much he hates his life in Los Alamos.

That night we see Owen and Abby lying in their separate beds but "touching" through their shared wall. Later, when Abby visits Thomas at the hospital, they share a similar gesture through the window of his room, just before Thomas makes his final sacrifice for her.

Alone after Thomas's death, Abby visits Owen in his room and, naked, gets in bed with him. Since she has told Owen not to look at her--her face is smeared with Thomas's blood--there is no physical contact. She agrees, somewhat reluctantly, to be Owen's girlfriend after he makes it clear that there is no obligation other than the verbal pact. The next morning she has, of course, left before sunrise, leaving a note behind that quotes ROMEO AND JULIET: "I must be gone and live or stay and die." The double meaning for Abby should be obvious to the viewer, but it may also foreshadow the choices that lie before Owen.

Abby kisses Owen for the first time when he tells her about hitting Kenny, an act of self-assertion but also one of violence. Owen takes Abby to his secret hideout, an abandoned apartment where he used to hang out with another friend, and, in what he thinks will be the next step in bringing them closer, offers a blood pact. But the sight and smell of Owen's blood triggers a vampiric transition which Abby cannot control. Dropping to the floor, she laps up some of the spilled blood, then, in a frightening, demonic voice tells Owen to "Go away!" Rather than risk attacking him, she runs out of the room, effortlessly climbs a tree in the courtyard, and ambushes the young woman who lives in the same complex with her male companion. The blood temptation scene is reminiscent of that between Count Dracula and Renfield in the original Universal movie. Abby's loss of control suggests the expression "blood simple," used as a title in a Coen Brothers film in which the killing gets ridiculously out of hand, and referencing a similar situation in the Dashiell Hammett novel RED HARVEST. This marks two occasions when Abby, desperately needing to feed, has spared Owen's life. Later, after the murder of the homicide detective, we see that the abandoned apartment can be used to conceal a body, though we don't know for how long. But the entire sequence indicates that Abby's feelings for Owen are stronger than her blood lust.

Owen's illusions have been destroyed. Getting no help from the adult world, he courageously visits Abby's apartment after dark and asks if she is a vampire. She replies that she needs blood to live--a different way of saying the same thing, but emphasizing that it is a need rather than a choice. Her situation is in sharp contrast with that of Kenny and his older brother Jimmy, both of whom engage in cruel violence for its own sake. She also states that she has "been twelve for a very long time." Is she still emotionally a twelve-year-old? Was her mental as well as her physical development frozen in time at the moment she was made a vampire? Even if not, it can be argued that, despite her chronological age, her chances for social interaction and real-life experiences have been severely limited by the nature of her lifestyle: hiding from the daylight, coming out only at night, physically at least an eternal child. As Owen is about to leave, Abby blocks his way. "What are you gonna do to me?" he asks, and Abby stands aside. With his new knowledge, Owen is not a potential threat to her, but she does not harm him.

Their next scene takes place in Owen's apartment. Abby asks to be invited in, and Owen, still angry and upset, demands to know, "What if I don't?" This time Abby places her life in Owen's hands, entering without his permission and paying the bloody consequences until he can no longer stand to watch. He embraces her and gives her permission to enter. "Would you have died?" he asks her. "I knew you wouldn't let me," she responds. Owen's feelings for Abby are stronger than his horror at learning her secret. For one moment he had power over her and chose not to use it, a choice that has set him on a path for the rest of his life. He has let her in.

Owen's second choice is made dramatically when the homicide detective discovers the sleeping (or dormant?) Abby in the bathroom of her apartment. Interrupted by Owen just as he is about to admit lethal sunlight into the room, the detective is distracted long enough for Abby to attack him fatally. As the detective, bloodied and helpless, lies on the floor, he looks imploringly at Owen and reaches a hand toward the boy. Owen seems to be reaching to the detective but instead grasps the doorknob and closes the door. Now his choice is final and irrevocable. Minutes later Abby, covered with the blood of her latest victim, hugs Owen and then kisses him on the mouth, leaving a blood stain. A blood pact has now been completed, one far more serious and binding than the innocent one initially proposed by Owen.

Forced to flee, Abby is seen getting in a cab and seemingly leaving Owen forever, as he tearfully watches. But there are other monsters in Owen's world, and the final confrontation with Kenny and his sociopath brother Jimmy ends in a horrific attack by Abby, saving Owen but leaving her slaughtered victims floating in the school swimming pool. Has Abby selflessly risked her existence to protect Owen, or has she realized that she needs another familiar to replace Thomas?

The final scene shows Owen on a train with sunlight streaming through the window. Abby is in the trunk at his feet, and they communicate via Morse code. In a chilling final note, Owen softly sings the jingle of his favorite treat, "Eat one now, save one for later."

In contrast to the moral certainty of the Reagan era, when patriotic, church-going Americans stood in opposition to the Evil Empire led by the Soviet Union--an evil conveniently outside our own borders--this is a film about moral ambiguity. Owen's devout mother is also an alcoholic and a neglectful parent. Authority figures like teachers and police officers are less than perceptive, and romantic love leads to senseless bickering, temper tantrums and bitter divorce. The adult perception of childhood innocence is belied by the relentless, bottomless cruelty of school bullies. Does Abby love Owen, or has she simply groomed him to be her next familiar, a convenient replacement for the aging and disposable Thomas? What does love mean to Abby? Is she a centuries-old monster, sophisticated and plotting, like the stereotypical vampires of all those Hammer films hat preceded this one, or is she still a twelve-year-old girl trapped in the unalterable circumstances of her severely circumscribed existence? Is Abby trapped in an endless cycle of seduction and replacement of familiars? Will Owen inevitably age and become another Thomas, or, as some of the film's online fans have wished, will she turn him into a vampire like her? Are Owen and Abby Romeo and Juliet or Renfield and Dracula? We don't know. There is good in evil and evil in good, and it is to the credit of the film's creators that no convenient answers are offered.


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