Let the Right One In |
directed by Tomas Alfredson
Well, finally. A great vampire movie.
What makes Let the Right One In one so great is that it is, at long last, the proper sort of vampire movie. Vampires are very, very interesting characters, and that's how this movie proceeds: as a series of character studies wound around a tight plot with a very unexpected ending that still flows directly from the story. There's no high school hormonal nonsense going on, but there is raw sexuality in the sense that it is about adolescents on the sexual borderline between childhood and teenagerhood. This makes for drama, actual drama, not predictable teenage romance crapola about young girls, with absolutely no self-esteem to speak of, who worship cool boy-band escapee bloodsucking dudes. This isn't your black-garbed, purple-lipstick-wearing, Bauhaus-listening, Gothic-worshipping, older sister's vampire movie. None of that, here.
So, what is it that's different about Let the Right One In? Happily, everything. The protagonists are still in grade school, for one. The locations where most of the action takes place are in the grade school and the industrial apartment complex where the main characters live, not some mansion or underground club. It's also the middle of winter, in Sweden, in a suburb of snowbound Stockholm. A vampire movie, in Sweden, in the middle of winter, set in a grade school and an industrial apartment complex. It's just perfect.
Simply filmed but told without simplifications of any sort, LTROI is a bildungsroman story through and through. The title is taken from a Morrissey song, "Let the Right One Slip In." The protagonist, 12-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrandt), a blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy, is a quiet, introspective kid who is relentlessly bullied at school. His parents are divorced. His mom works full-time; he sees his father and his father's live-in male lover on the weekends. Oskar is lonely, emotionally fragile and wishing he had someone to talk to. Into his boring, unremarkable world comes a 12-year-old (give or take 200 years) girl, sad-eyed, dark-haired Eli (Lena Leandersson), who has just moved into the adjacent apartment. Eli becomes Oskar's friend and ally, both of them survivors in a hostile world that doesn't seem to have a place for them.
How did director Tomas Alfredson manage to make a vampire movie that is actually touching, as well as suspenseful and engaging? How did he manage to make a vampire movie that is truly about actual social issues and real human problems? Working from a screenplay by novelist John Ajvide Lindqvuist, Alfredson conjures up settings that are hushed and quiet, compacted with the oppressive silence that is so unsettling throughout the film. Mixing moments of sweetness and puppy love with disturbing revelations and bursts of action, the viewer is never allowed to relax for even a minute, even during moments of tenderness between Eli and Oskar. The revelations are very slow, letting you the viewer fill in the spaces as you go along without ever once insulting your intelligence. The action comes from the interpersonal conflicts, the intruding nature of chance, all sorts of things. There's so much in balance that I wish future film directors would look to this as an example of how to make a not just a vampire movie, but a great movie.
Not that there haven't been great vampire movies made before. But the early black-and-white films were marvels more of technical and special-effects achievements that adhered to a framework already laid out by the classics (e.g., Bram Stoker, early folk tales). Later movies, while interesting additions to popular culture, are either schlocky or sexy or both, running the full gambit of Hollywood-style, producer-fed expectations. LTROI is the distilled essence of what a traditional vampire movie truly is, or should be: something utterly terrifying while being all too human, combined with excellent plotting, pacing, and great acting.
It is also incredibly graphic, but in ways appropriate to the story. Neither overdone nor understated, the violence happens in short, sharp shots between long moments of extended suspense. Let's just say that in all the vampire/horror movies I've ever seen, there has never been anything quite like the swimming pool scene at the very end. In the word of Keanu: "Woah." Just ... woah.
This movie is subtle to such a degree that it doesn't even feel like a vampire movie. Kare and Lena give so much of themselves to their characters that their acting puts the lie to many adult actors in the cheesy vampire movies we have now. LTROI is a superbly crafted gothic, yet uplifting, movie that's destined to be an industry standard and a great addition to the vampire genre. It's macabre, deliciously suspenseful, emotionally involving, layered, atmospheric and terrifying. It also has heart and humanity, and will probably set a new standard for the genre as a whole.
Cloverfield's Matt Reeves is adapting it for American audiences, with a release date of Dec. 31, 2010, for Overture/Hammer Films. See it. If you like great movies, if you like vampire movies, see it.
18 July 2009
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Never has the ending of a "horror" movie left me as slack-jawed as this one did. Three punches to the guts. First, underwater in the swimming pool and what we see in dead silence. Then, the closeup on Eli's fierce look of triumphant vengeance. Finally, the scene on the train and the horror it implies. As the credits rolled, I just sat there blinking in amazement.
Everything that happens in this movie occurs beneath the surface of a quiet Swedish town (in fact, look for all the scenes featuring underpasses). The cat attack, the leap from a tree, the frozen man being winched up, her stitches -- all are truly startling moments.
The love story of Oskar and Eli is one I will never forget. Here's a question to ponder: Did the doomed caretaker Hakar meet Eli when he was 12 years old?
Oh, and did I mention this is about vampires?
10 March 2012
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