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Friday, November 7, 2008
  Review: Let the Right One In
A few weeks ago I wrote about a vampire movie from Sweden called Let the Right One In that had been winning raves at film festivals. I noted then that I’m not the biggest fan of the horror genre, particularly vampire movies, but this one had an interesting twist: it’s about a vampire who appears to be a 12-year-old girl. Between the the premise and its origins – one of the reasons I like foreign movies is they typically lack the more formulaic, clichéd aspects of most Hollywood productions, vampire movies being among the worst offenders – I was curious to see if Let the Right One In could live up to the hype. I’m happy to report that it more than surpassed my expectations.

The story of Let the Right One In follows Oskar, an awkward, solitary 12-year-old boy who gets picked on at school and divides his time at home between his separated parents. A new girl moves in to the apartment next door to his mother’s, along with a silent older man who appears to be her father. The girl, Eli, soon introduces herself to Oskar one night when he’s outside fantasizing about fighting back against his tormentors with his knife. (It’s the dead of winter in Sweden, but she’s out in her pajamas, but she insists she’s not cold. “I guess I've forgotten how,” she tells Oskar.) The two children strike up a friendship, and Oskar slowly realizes there’s a lot more to his strange new friend than he first realized.

Let the Right One In is a haunting, beautifully-crafted film from director Tomas Alfredson, and written for the screen by John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on his own novel. It’s not your typical vampire movie – it’s quiet, moody, and builds slowly to its astonishing climactic scene, and some people in the theatre with me who were presumably expecting a more traditional vampire movie seemed bored by its deliberate pace. That’s not to say there aren’t scares in the movie, because there are, but it’s more psychological and atmospheric, the sort of tension you find in a good thriller. Alfredson fills the film with gorgeous shots of the snowy landscape, and the scenes set outdoors at night, with the contrast between the stark white snow and the oppressive darkness beyond, are particularly creepy.

But the thing that impressed me the most about Let the Right One In was its emotional punch; this is one of the most genuinely moving films I’ve seen this year. The young actors (
Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli) are both amazing, and as their friendship blossoms into something more, I realized that not only is this a phenomenal vampire movie, it’s the most affecting love story I’ve seen in a long time. I went into Let the Right One In expecting a good vampire movie, but I didn’t expect to have my heart broken.

I know the teen-girl-friendly Twilight, based on the massively successful series of novels by Stephenie Meyer, is the vampire flick getting all the attention right now, and I’m sure it’ll be a big box office success. But that really (to me, at least) looks like more of the same; dreamy, vaguely Eurotrash-looking blodsuckers brooding and looking pretty and all that other played-out, gothic claptrap. But Let the Right One In (an actual European film) doesn’t have time for clichés, and while it does delve into vampire mythology – the title alludes to the “rule” about vampires needing to be invited into a person’s home – it’s a truly unique and wholly original film. It’s not only the best vampire movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s a lock for my year-end best-of list. Let the Right One In is simply a brilliant piece of cinema, and it comes with my highest possible recommendation.


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