by Mel Valentin
Just when you thought the vampire genre had exhausted itself and was badly in need of a transfusion (sorry, couldn’t resist), along comes "Let the Right One In" ("Låt den rätte komma in"), an award-winning, art-horror film from Sweden directed by Tomas Alfredson and adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his novel. With influences ranging from Stephen King ("Salem’s Lot") to Anne Rice ("Interview with the Vampire," "The Vampire Lestat") and Guillermo del Toro ("Cronos"), "Let the Right One In" is an often disturbing, occasionally gory, but no less original film, part coming-of-age-tale, part chaste preteen romance, and part supernatural horror film.Let the Right One In is set in Blackeberg, a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden during the winter of 1982. Twelve-year old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), fantasizes about getting violent revenge on Conny (Patrik Rydmark), the ringleader of a group of boys who mercilessly bully him at every turn. At home, his mother, Virginia (Ika Nord), prefers to watch television than to engage him in conversation. Oskar entertains himself by collecting newspaper clippings detailing violent murders (more fodder for his revenge fantasies). At regular intervals, Oskar spends a week with his alcoholic father. One night, he spots a middle-aged man, Håkan (Per Ragnar), and a young girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson), move in next door.
"Literate art-horror adaptation (it's better than it sounds)."
As Oskar slashes at a tree in a courtyard the next night, releasing his pent-up anger at his tormentors, Eli appears, seemingly out of nowhere. Coatless, Eli seems impervious to the cold. While curious, Eli seems coldly distant. Quick to solve a Rubik’s cube Oskar hands her, she disappears into the night. Oskar soon learns Eli’s secret: she’s a 12-year old vampire or, to be more accurate, she’s vampire who looks like a 12-year old girl (she could be several hundred years old). Hakan isn’t Eli’s father. He’s her caretaker, a human “familiar” who protects her during the day, when she’s at her weakest, and kills for her, bringing her blood from freshly killed victims, most of them young men.
Not surprisingly, Eli’s status as a vampire creates problems for a romantic relationship with the lonely, disaffected Oskar. Getting too close to Oskar risks exposure, as does Hakan’s sloppy kill, which eventually brings unwanted attention to Eli and Hakan from several locals, including Lacke (Peter Carlberg), Jocke (Mikael Rahm), and Yvonne (Karin Bergquist), who spend most of their free time smoking, drinking, and talking about leaving Blackeberg for warmer climes. Eli provide Let the Right One In with a subplot that adds urgency to Eli and Oskar’s relationship, as does the constant, increasingly violent bullying Oskar experiences.
While any discussion begins (and probably ends) with the vampire angle, Let the Right One In is, if anything a small-scale, intimate character study. Without the vampire element, it wouldn’t have been surprising to hear Alfredson’s name mentioned in the same breath with Ingmar Bergman, the late Swedish art-film master. Deliberately paced, carefully composed, beautifully shot, and meticulously edited, Let the Right One In is nothing if not a European art film. Of course, those art cinema tropes have been mixed with a vampire story, but what’s startling is how seamless the combination of disparate conventions actually is, even with the occasional dollops of gore and blood (mostly kept off screen).
While the 12-year old vampire (who’s really centuries old) will immediately remind Anne Rice’s readers of the Claudia character from Interview with the Vampire, others will think of the child vampires in Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, while still others will think of Guillermo de Toro’s debut film, Cronos (not for the child vampire, since there aren’t any in Cronos, but for the combination of art-horror conventions). The “rules” for Eli’s existence are familiar from vampire lore: she’s ageless, super-strong, can fly, is photophobic (with reason), needs fresh human blood to survive, and, true to the title, can’t enter someone’s home without permission (the other source is a song by Morrissey of Smiths fame).Deft, risk-taking writing, unobtrusive direction, strong, grounded performances, especially by the two leads, Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, all add up to a film worth seeking out at your local arthouse theater (if you’re lucky enough to have one or have "Let the Right One In" play there) or on DVD in, hopefully, several months. Whatever you do, see "Let the Right One In" before the inevitably neutered remake, already in production with Matt Reeves ("Cloverfield") writing and directing, hits theaters, presumably sometime next year.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=17613&reviewer=402
originally posted: 11/08/08 05:00:00