Monday, December 15, 2008

Låt den rätte komma in (2008)

Most people know my stance on vampire films. If you don't, here's a quick recap: Most of them are crap, more often than not because they either over-exaggerate the lore (Queen of the Damned) or ignore it entirely (Blade: Trinity). The best vampire films respect the tradition of the creature, and the Swedish film Let the Right One In is one of very few vampire films that deals with the monster in a very human way, while telling a startlingly realistic love story.

Oskar's life is not a pleasant one for a 12 year-old. He's scrawny, he's ruthlessly picked on at school, and his parents are divorced. He quickly strikes up a friendship with Eli (Lina Leandersson), an odd girl who just moved in next door. It's not long before we learn what's wrong with Eli. She's a vampire, and her father (or caretaker, we're not told which) has to murder and bleed random individuals so that she can feed undetected. This doesn't deter Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) much, and the two quickly become the closest of friends.

So what do I find so fascinating about this film? Well, like I said above, it does two things absolutely right. One: it treats the classic vampire with the utmost care. The title itself is a reference to the notion that one has to invite a vampire in before it will enter, something most films or stories ignore out of convenience. Here, we even get to see what happens when Eli enters a room uninvited. Two: the film doesn't waste time over-explaining to us how things work. We know what vampires can do and we don't need to be told all over again. Once it's revealed that Eli is a vampire, she begins acting accordingly. When she feeds, she's ravenous. She's sneaky, agile, and ruthless. But the film never oversells the fact. Eli's final, gruesome attack is completely implied, and it's all the more terrifying for it.

And that's one thing that makes Let the Right One In stand out. Narratively, we learn as much implied information as we learn onscreen. For instance, it's never explicitly stated that Eli's caretaker is actually her father. He certainly could be, but if he's not, that speaks volumes about Eli's power over him. Also, it's implied that Oskar's mother is worried sick over her son's supposed violent outbursts. It's never explicitly dealt with, but if you want to entertain the notion, there's plenty to ponder.

Equally as important here is the relationship between Eli and Oskar. The friendship develops naturally, but soon grows into something considerably more complicated and meaningful. Eli warns Oskar that they shouldn't be friends, but against her better judgement he eventually wins her over. Just like so much of this film, their relationship grows quietly, one act of kindness after another. Absent is any of the melodrama that typically accompanies adolescent love stories. Anyone who's ever been 12 knows Oskar's situation, and the film mines those memories to surprising effect. It sort of makes Oskar into a Mary Sue, but the difference is in the fact that the character's life is already so terrible, that no one in their right mind would see it as wish fulfillment.

Ultimately, however, this is still a horror film. Each of Eli's kills are jarring and hard to watch, which is as much a result of subtle visual effects and sound design as it is the sight of a girl jumping and feeding on a grown man's neck. There's a scene involving a pack of cats that's still stuck in my head. It's just... unsettling... But anyway, while the film may not be the most effective horror film of the year in terms of scares, it's definitely the most creative and subtle. Let the Right One In is one of the best horror films of the decade, and it's a real shame that it's getting the Hollywood remake treatment already.

4.5 (****1/2) stars out of five.

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