Friday, 26 November 2010

Let the Right One In

14. Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) (2008)
Dir: Tomas Alfredson


Unless you've been living in an isolated Transylvanian castle, you've probably noticed that vampires are currently in vogue. The likes of 'The Twilight Saga' (2008-2012), 'The Vampire Diaries' (2009- ) and 'True Blood' (2008- ) have all been hugely popular and there's even already been a spoof of the phenomenon in Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer's 'Vampires Suck' (and given Friedberg and Seltzer's track record, the title is probably the funniest part of the film). The whole vampire thing has rather passed me by and I couldn't comment on any of the films or TV series mentioned above, having not seen any of them. Whatever their respective merits, one positive that has come out of this vampire fad is that it has thrust a modest, brilliant little Swedish film into the spotlight when it might have otherwise been ignored by the mainstream. I'm talking, of course, about Tomas Alfredson's beautiful 'Let the Right One In'.

While many of the recent vampire movies have been aimed squarely at a young female audience titilated by the prospect of a jugular penetration from Robert Pattinson, Alfreson's film removes the sexual element altogether by making its vampiric protagonist a twelve year old girl (although she has "been twelve for a long time") named Eli. Eli moves into the frosty Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg where she meets a shy, bullied young boy called Oskar. The two bond over a Rubik's Cube (the film is set in 1982) and a tentative romance develops, hindered by Eli's continuing need for blood.

Alfredson's major achievement with 'Let the Right One In' is creating a horror film with enormous crossover appeal as regards genre. Horror fans will not be disappointed with the grislier content. Necks are bitten, corpses are hung up and drained, faces are mutilated and limbs hacked off. And yet, after watching 'Let the Right One In' it is not these elements that stay with most viewers. Instead, the sweet romance between Oskar and Eli stands out and the gore is overwhelmed by a captivatingly chilly, poetic atmosphere. Alfredson confines most of the action to an apartment block which houses most of his major characters and this run-down, depressing setting is photographed with breathtaking beauty. You really do feel that you're trapped there with everyone on screen, so much so that when one character optimistically suggests an escape just a little too late, it's genuinely devastating.

'Let the Right One In' is based on John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel of the same name but Alfredson toned down some of the content and wisely chose to focus primarily on the relationship between Oskar and Eli, which is utterly disarming. Much credit must go to the young actors, who give performances of surprising maturity given their tender ages. Kare Hedebrant is deeply affecting and believably meek as Oskar but it is Lina Leandersson's Eli who proves to be the truly unforgettable character. Her incredible, haunted eyes make her a fascinating creature whose supernatural origin seems utterly plausible and, despite the fact that her fight for survival entails the murder of many innocents, it is Eli with whom we sympathise. When both the young actors are on screen together (which is frequently, mostly with no other actors present), the chemistry is beguiling, neatly avoiding the sexual angle so crucial to other recent vampire films, or even the Hammer films of the 50s and 60s. Oskar and Eli are the picture of chaste young love and Eli's reluctant attacks on her victim's necks are purely through grim neccesity, presented in suitably grisly, messy fashion. It all makes the doomed nature of Oskar and Eli's relationship all the more tragic.

'Let the Right One In' has the simplest of stories and when it finishes there is much left to be said. What we get is a glimpse into a chapter of Oskar and Eli's lives. The uncertainties of the climax only add to the appeal. Any kind of pat, neatly tied-up ending would have been detrimental. 'Let the Right One In' just isn't that kind of film. The plot is secondary to the impeccably realised atmosphere and the startlingly convincing central relationship. Thus, I didn't feel I'd watched a horror film at all when 'Let the Right One In' ended, despite the many shocking events (brilliantly brought to the screen through appropriately modest but convincing special effects). I felt I'd watched a romantic drama.

'Let the Right One In' won't cause you any fearful sleepless nights. Instead, you'll be left with the chilly atmosphere that dominates the film but countered by the tentative emotional warmth that emanates from the central relationship. This atypical gem evokes the vital filmmaking of the 60s and 70s that I love so much and, while it hasn't piqued my interest in any other recent vampire films, it has left me eager to see more of Tomas Alfredson's work.



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