Monday, December 01, 2008

Review: "Let the Right One In"

While Catherine Hardwicke's teen sensation Twilight is taking the box office by storm, another, much more subtle vampire romance has been quietly making a splash on the art house circuit.

Let the Right One In is a Swedish import by director Tomas Alfredson, based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, that tells the story of a shy, lonely 12 year old named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant). Oskar is your typical silver screen child from a broken home - he has no friends and is mercilessly bullied at school by some of the most cruel children ever committed to celluloid. He dreams of enacting revenge on his tormentors, but never works up the courage to confront them. Instead he takes out his anger on trees, shouting at them to "squeal like a pig" while he gouges them with his knife.

That is where he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a strange young girl who moved into the apartment next door in the dead of night. Her skin is so pale it is almost white, and she never comes outside during the day, staying instead in her room where the windows are completely covered with paper. "We can never be friends." she tells him upon their first meeting, but slowly and surely the two begin to form an inseparable bond.

Eli, you see, is a vampire, frozen in time at 12 years old. She and her father are responsible for a string of mysterious deaths that have whipped the town into a panic, but Oskar is oblivious to all of this, forging ahead with his newfound attraction for the enigmatic Eli, whose friendship gives him a strength he never knew he had.

The main difference between Let the Right One In and Twilight is that achieves a depth of emotion that Twilight never even hints at. While everything about the relationship between Bella and Edward is superficial, here there is something much sweeter, and much more profound going on. By the time Oskar discovers Eli's true identity, the news doesn't really phase him. In one especially touching scene, a bloodied Eli climbs through Oskar's window, removes her snow covered clothing and climbs into bed with him. But instead of having sexual overtones, Alfredson takes a different route. Oskar is at first surprised by Eli's nudity and the coldness of her skin, but quickly recovers and asks calmly "Do you want to go steady?" Eli is at first confused by the terminology, but once it is explained to her she tells him that she is not a girl. "Oh." he replies. "So do you still want to go steady?"

It is that kind of blase attitude toward sexuality and gender that really adds an extra layer to their relationship. While it is only hinted at in the film, in the book Eli really is a boy whose genitals were cut off at some point in his life. But to Oskar, who probably has no idea what the word homosexual or bisexual means, what Eli has or doesn't have between her legs is totally irrelevant. So too is the fact that she is a vicious killer. He has found a connection, a soul mate, and to him everything else is just arbitrary details.

I began to wonder as I watched the film how much different it would be it had been made in America (sadly I won't have to wait long to find out, Cloverfield director Matt Reeves already has an English language version in the works). There is no way that an American version would have the same subtlety and depth of feeling. Alfredson shifts the focus away from gore and violence (although there is plenty) and toward the characters. It is a simple tale simply told, in an almost reflective, poetic style. The result is a beautiful, enchanting gothic fable that is at once strangely charming and unabashedly macabre. Alfredson, along with cinematographer Hoyt Van Hoytema make the most of the snow-swept Swedish landscapes to create a stark, chilling atmosphere worthy of any horror thriller, with the considerable aid of Johan Söderqvist's haunting score.

But the most astonishing aspect of the film is the ease with which the two young leads carry the entire thing. It's all about them, and they have proven themselves more than up to the task. There's more chemistry going on here than anything you'll see in Twilight. These two have a bright future ahead of them, and their film is one of the finest of the year. Let the Right One In is a disarmingly tender work of art, that finds beauty in morbidity and love amidst violence. I've always been a sucker for puppy love stories, and this, while quite possibly the most unusual I have ever seen, a kind of A Little Romace meets Dracula, sent my heart soaring out of the theater. It's probably the darkest film to have ever done so, but by the end it doesn't really matter. This is a wonderful film that deserves to find an audience, a shining ray of hope in a sea of prepackaged cinematic sewage. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I go to the movies.

GRADE - ***½ (out of four)

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN; Directed by Tomas Alfredson; Stars Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrick Dahl; Rated R for some bloody violence including disturbing images, brief nudity and language; In Swedish w/English subtitles

4 comments:

nick plowman said...

Fantastic review Matty, so glad you loved it, more than me anyway. It was gorgeous, and they WILL fuck up with the remake, which should not be allowed to be made. It's wrong, and should be illegal.

Matthew Lucas said...

Especially with Matt Reeves at the helm.

Don't get me wrong, I liked CLOVERFIELD. But he's all wrong for this. The subtlety will be gone, as well be the androgynous overtones as well.

I shudder to think what it will be like.

Anonymous said...

A well written review!

However, the man that Eli lives with is not her father.

Matthew Lucas said...

I am well aware of that. However since that is how he is referred to in the film, that is how I will refer to him in this *spoiler free* review.