Friday, November 7, 2008

Let the Right One In (2008)

I’ve never been a big fan of vampire movies. Their typical storylines about sexy, beautiful, rich vampires never really appealed to me…they just weren’t scary and most of them feel like you’re watching a trashy soap opera instead of a horror flick. I like my vampires grimy, I like ‘em to have some pathos, I like ‘em feral and violent…not trussed up in black leather, lounging about mansions drinking blood martinis. So, I was a bit hesitant about seeing Let the Right One In, a Swedish vampire film. Yet, right from the silent opening credits I knew I was in for something completely different…

In 1980′s Sweden, 12-year-old Oskar is a loner. He hardly sees his divorced parents, he is bullied at school and spends most of his free time alone, collecting newspaper clippings of violent crimes and murders. One snowy night Oskar sees a girl his age moving in next door. He meets her one night out in the snow-covered courtyard outside of their drab apartment building and she introduces herself as Eli. First the two are wary of each other, but both live such lonely lives that they gravitate towards one another and become friends. Eli seems to have odd habits, such as only coming out at night, needing to be invited into a room before entering and always being cold to the touch, but even though Oskar deduces just what she is, the bond of their friendship and love is too strong and nothing can separate them.

Let the Right One In is a very beautiful, quiet and subtle film that takes an interesting approach to the vampire myth. It is the antithesis to Hollywood’s sexy, rich and sophisticated vampires, instead focusing on the cold emptiness of a vampire’s life. There is a real humanity infused into all of the characters, and the situations they are trapped in are what make the movie horrifying.

The film is based on a book written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay. Lindqvist has said that the tale is partly autobiographical about his childhood, which really explains why the film feels so intimate and personal. Lindqvist also does a wonderful job tapping into childhood fears of alienation and being alone. His characters also carry with them tons of emotional depth, which can still be seen and felt on-screen. It’s not so much what the characters say as it is how they react in their environment that gives us a true sense of who they are. Both Oskar and Eli long for companionship, though neither of them would readily admit it. It’s to the credit of Lindqvist who gives these characters their depth that they feel so real to us.

Of course, praise must also be lavished on the two child actors that portrayed Oskar and Eli, Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson. Both their performances were absolutely spectacular! You felt for and sympathized with their characters throughout the entire movie, even when Eli was ripping out people’s throats and Oskar continued to stand by her. With just a glance either actor could portray more heartfelt emotion than Miley Cyrus has been able to muster in her entire career! Both complex performances by Hedebrant and Leandersson are near flawless.

The pacing of Let the Right One In is slower than most films horror fans are used to, but the direction by Tomas Alfredson and the gorgeous cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema will keep you interested. I enjoyed the humor that Alfredson (I’m told he’s known for his comedy movies in Sweden) injected into the otherwise somber tone of the film. There are some genuinely funny moments that help to considerably lighten the mood of the film and help you enjoy it that much more. Of course, the austere cinematography by Van Hoytema definitely keeps your eyes glued to the screen as well. His shots of the snowy Swedish countryside will have you burrowing a little deeper into your winter coat.

Also keeping your attention are the genuinely unexpected moments throughout the film. There are some pretty shocking scenes that come out of nowhere and really surprise you, like Eli scaling the side of a building, her first attack, the awesome finale in the pool and so on. These shocks are few and far between, so when they actually do happen you’ll be pleased as punch because they are well worth the wait!

The one detraction in the film was an unnecessary CGI shot of a group of cats reacting violently to a vampire in their midst. The whole scene felt awkward and out of place in an otherwise restrained film. It also didn’t look too great with the obvious CGI’d cats. Still, this is but one complaint throughout the entirety of one very excellent film.

Let the Right One In definitely isn’t your typical horror movie, and some people have hotly contested that it shouldn’t even be grouped into the horror genre. True, the horror here is much more subtle than most films, but the horror is still there. Instead of having a villain running around slaughtering everyone, the real horrors in Let the Right One In are the desperate situations Oskar and Eli find themselves in. They are both outcasts and must try to survive. For Oskar, it’s surviving the bullies at school, whom he wants to kill to seek revenge. For Eli, it’s surviving the monster inside of her needs to kill to live. Both seek to survive the isolation and loneliness of their respective lives…and when they find each other, surviving becomes a little easier.

Let the Right One In is a bittersweet, tender, funny and almost heartbreaking story about finding that one person that accepts you for who you are, no matter what, and who would do anything for you.

Available from Amazon!

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