Thursday, March 19, 2009
Random Movie Report #62: Let The Right One In
I don’t see a lot of contemporary horror films. I blame how they’re promoted- the ads are loud, ugly, repeated endlessly, and all look the same, so by the time the film hits theaters I usually have no interest in sitting through 90 minutes of poorly cleaned walls, blue-green filters, and the whimpering of female victims. I’m sure I’ll discover the good ones eventually. So when I say that LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in a while, understand that mine is not the most informed judgment on the matter. Still, I think I feel confident in saying that this is a terrific movie. It’s a vampire film, of sorts, and also a pre-adolescent love story, but in a grim and twisted way that, rest assured, is as different from TWILIGHT as you can possibly imagine.
Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a 12 year old boy living in a Swedish apartment complex when some new neighbors drop in. One is a girl his age, Eli (Lina Leandersson), who first warns him that they can’t be friends. He never sees her at school, or anywhere during the day. Brutal murders start taking place, and the film makes no real pretense at hiding things- Eli is a vampire, and her apparent father is actually a Renfield-like servant who tries to collect blood for her on his own. He eventually reaches too far and is caught, but Eli is capable of finding victims on her own. Not that this bothers Oskar too much; as far as he knows she’s a girl who kind of likes him, and he has some especially vicious bullies at school to worry about. On top of which, he’s not quite right himself- he carries a knife, collects newspaper clippings of death and murder, and practices stabbing on a tree. So even when he does start to piece together the “vampire” element, it’s not a major impediment to their friendship.
It may have something to do with the film’s origins as a novel (adapted by its writer, just as with STALKER), but one of the best things about LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is that it’s not trapped by the need to be a horror movie. It manages good shocks when they’re called for (with a nice use of long shots), but doesn’t insist that they come at the expense of character or story. Oskar, as mentioned, is not the standard average-in-every-respect protagonist even if you take out his age; there’s something wrong with him from the start, and something wrong with the whole environment, from the unmonitored bullying to the fact that we appear to be trapped in the late Seventies all over again. (I’m still not clear on whether this is a period piece or whether Sweden still looks like this.)
The film has a low-key, matter of fact approach for most of its running time; what we see of the vampire attacks is fairly brutal and bloody, but the brutality isn’t overemphasized. The visuals are quite creative, and though they tend to be vaguely monochromatic, I’m not as annoyed by that as usual as it’s not the product of excessive filtering so much as it being Sweden in the dead of winter.
Because this is a story of not-quite-teenage angst as much as it is a horror film, the focus is really on the lead characters. Both Hedebrant and Leandersson are convincingly understated, but the tension in their “relationship”- vaguely sexual but not yet formed- is palpable. (There is one shot that’s more than a little uncomfortable, though.) It’s in the balance between the story’s supernatural elements and its mundane ones that the film establishes its power, and the emphasis on character is also welcome.
LET THE RIGHT ONE in is a breath of fresh air. Though bits and pieces of it could use improvement- I actually got confused at one point as to which characters were Oskar’s parents- the film offers frequent surprises and is less focused on being as scary as it can possibly be than on simply telling a story. It delivers scares but isn’t single-minded about it. I don’t want to say that this film points the way forward for the horror genre, since as I said, I’m not quite qualified to do so. But it’s encouraging.
Screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist based on his novel
Directed by Tomas Alfredson