Not one to let being late to the party get in the way of verbiage, allow me now to add my voice to the chorus of praise for Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In. Though it has, in some quarters, been referred to as the anti-Twilight, but such a designation does no justice at all to a film as complex, witty, moving and gloriously horrific as this one.
Scripted by John Ajvide Lindqvist (based on his novel of the same name), and set in a dreary 70s Sweden that would have Ingmar Bergman nodding in appreciative recognition, this is the tale of Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a shy, sensitive 12-year-old. His divorced parents have little time for him, but Conny (Patrik Rydmark), the school bully, has plenty. Life is thus pretty miserable, and Oskar spends many an evening hanging around the sad-looking playground of the apartment complex where he lives. One night, he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), who appears to be a young girl his age, even though she feels no need to wear winter clothing. Eli is, in fact, a vampire, and is accompanied by Håkan (Per Ragnar), her aging Renfield figure, who is having increasing trouble harvesting blood for her. His attempts are both horrific in their detail, and hilarious as they start to go wrong. At any rate, the two outsiders soon bond, and Oskar begins to blossom and find inner strength, even as he penetrates deeper into Eli’s dark world.
It’s hard to imagine just what there is new that could be done with the vampire tale, but Lindqvist and Alfredson answer that question effortlessly. Traditional vampire mythology is deployed creatively, and frankly it’s been ages since I’ve seen anyone use the inability to cross a threshold uninvited (a weakness that, obviously, gives the film its title), never mind being shown the actual consequences of that prohibition being violated. And though the relationship between the two protagonists is sweet and touching, the film never sugar-coats what Eli does. The attacks are messy, bloody, brutal affairs, all the more striking for Alfredson’s refusal to sensationalize. On the contrary, his film is quiet, understated, and thus even more powerful.
Just as impressive are the two leads. Neither is the artificial construct we are used to in Hollywood productions. As talented as Dakota Fanning is, for instance, none of the children she has played are real in the way Hedebrant’s Oskar is (and thanks for this is also due to Lindqvist’s script). Oskar is a heartbreakingly believable youngster, one whose miseries will strike a painful chord for anyone who was not one of the beautiful people in school, and particularly so for anyone who came of age in the 70s. As for Leandersson, she has the challenging task of being simultaneously twelve and ancient, and her performance is quite the accomplishment. She has the oldest eyes I have ever seen in someone so young.
A number of reviewers have praised (in non-spoiler terms) the swimming pool scene. They are right to do so. I won’t be any more specific, and I will simply say that when the scene happens, it is a moment as startling as it is satisfying.
I could go on, but it would be much better for any interested reader to check out the film itself (it hits DVD March 13). See this film. See it soon. See just how rich and original a horror movie can be.
And for crying out loud, see it before the remake, whose looming existence I wish I were kidding about. This is a work as personal and tied to its locale as The Vanishing. And we all know how that reworking turned out.