Review: ‘Let the Right One In’
Swedish Vampire Film Has Bite
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Halloween may be behind us but I still have horror on my mind. My friend alerted me to "Let the Right One In" (opening November 7 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas), a Swedish vampire film. Right there it peaked my interest since as far as I could remember I had never seen a vampire film from Sweden. So while most people are eagerly awaiting the Hollywood adaptation of the bestselling tween vamp romance Twilight, Let the Right One In slides in early and sets the bar exceptionally high. This may even end up on my top ten for 2008. You can listen to my Film Chat by clicking above.
“Let the Right One In” is a horror film in the tradition of Guillermo Del Toro in that the monster is sympathetic and the film is poetic. What makes “Let the Right One In”
unique is all the things it doesn't do, all the cliches it avoids - you won't find heavy-handed music cues, shaky cam, or flash cutting. This is not a film designed merely to scare you with things that jump out of the dark. Instead, it's interested in delivering a lyrical coming of age tale that just happens to include an adolescent bloodsucker.
Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel, “Let the Right One In” serves up a contemporary vampire tale. Set in the 1980s in a very cold Stockholm, the film focuses on two twelve year olds. Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a badly bullied young boy whose parents are divorced, and Eli (Lina Leandersson) is a strange young girl who happens to be a vampire. The story is really about how these two lonely children develop a friendship and support system in a world that's unwelcoming to them. The horror elements, which include some explicit gore, are really secondary. In some ways the scariest thing in the film are the young bullies who are merciless in tormenting Oskar. Eli may kill but she's only doing so in order to feed and survive. The lead bullies are just cruel.
The opening shots set the tone for the film. There's snow quietly falling and then we see a ghostly image of a young boy. The boy is Oskar and we realize the image is of his reflection in a window, and that's why he looks surreal and transparent. It's a lovely, simple shot yet it suggests something otherworldly. It also reveals the ingenuity of director and editor Tomas Alfredson since the shot requires no expensive special effect yet it creates an effective visual trick. There's also an attack at a pool that is brilliantly and beautifully executed. It begins in the boys' locker room with a shot of a mirror that shows a door opening but no one there. This is the subtle first suggestion that Eli is making an appearance. Alfredson finds a way to present a violent vampire attack that's both chilling and hypnotically poetic. I can't think of a film that has brought such innovation to the vampire genre.
“Let the Right One In” boasts an elegant production design in which even the young child actors are used as design elements. The film is very much about light and dark, shadows and light. Oskar's ghostly pale, blond, effeminate physicality contrasts sharply with Eli's dark looks and even darker soul. There's also the contrast between the white snow and the blackness of the night. Alfredson tends to keep the camera at a respectful distance from the violence be it an attack under a bridge, a throat slitting or a vampire igniting in a hospital bed. He knows when to move in for a punctuating close-up. The film is all about graceful, delicate control. Nothing feels heavy-handed or contrived.
Alfredson also deals with vampire lore well. The innovation he brings to the cinematic vampire (since I didn't read the book this innovation may come from there) is that vampires make cats want to attack. The title refers to the fact that a vampire has to be invited into your home in order to be able to come in. In this film the consequences for entering without an invitation are pretty severe, and again Alfredson reveals a savvy sense of what is most effective visually in conveying the bloody consequences.
“Let the Right One In” (in Swedish with English subtitles and rated R for some bloody violence including disturbing images, brief nudity and language) is so fresh and original that it makes what's currently available in horror seem stale and formulaic. Just as “Shaun of the Dead” put the romantic comedy in the foreground and the zombies in the background, “Let the Right One In” engages us first with the characters and then says, "Oh by the way did we mention Eli's a vampire?" First and foremost, the film delivers a tale of adolescence.
Companion viewing:“Devil's Backbone,” “Cronos,” “The Lost Boys”