Monday, October 19, 2009

Adolescence Sucks, Literally: Let the Right One In

I've said it a million times, but only because it still holds true: Really good horror movies--the ones that live in your memory and dreams/nightmares long after you're finished watching them--are essentially dark fairy tales; veiled allegories for universal truths and subconscious fears that connect with viewers on a level deeper than just a jump and a spontaneous scream. That element makes Let the Right One In not just the best new horror film I've seen this year--It makes it one of the best I've ever seen, period.

Withdrawn kid Oskar leads a solitary and monochromatic life in a Swedish suburb. He occupies himself by collecting morbid newspaper clippings, and faces a coldly-manipulative bully every day at school. Then a girl his age, Eli, moves in next door. She's a weird kid who walks barefoot through the snowy Swedish countryside every night. Her father's blocked all of their apartment windows from the sun's rays, and she has this habit of appearing out of nowhere. It's quickly obvious that Eli's a vampire, but Oskar finds a kindred spirit in this square peg, and a close friendship blooms between the two of them.

Let the Right One In proceeds at a leisurely pace, taking its languid cue from the alabaster peacefulness of the snowy Swedish countyside, but it's far from dull. The dream-state it creates is punctuated by swatches of gallows humor, and by some incredibly imaginative and terrifying setpieces that'll haunt you long after the film's ended. It works on myriad levels--It tells an affecting coming-of-age story for young Oskar, packs a significant symbolic punch with the character of Eli (she's Oskar's pent-up violence let loose as well as a potent metaphor for budding female maturity), and captures a child's-eye view by deliberately de-emphasizing most of the adult characters physically as well as aesthetically.

If you know your vampires you'll also love how director Tomas Alfredson and his screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist point up genre cliches. Let the Right One In pays all due respect to the conventions of vampire lore, but isn't afraid to goose things up with doses of reality, common sense, and humor: I don't think I've ever seen a movie in which someone attempting to harvest blood for a vampire almost gets a poodle. Yet it still delivers shocks by the bucket (the less revealed about them, the better).

The relationship between Oskar and Elli, however, forms the movie's soul, and the two young actors portraying these characters are stunning. Kare Hedebrandt's Oskar looks, feels and acts like a real kid: He's awkward and insular, but begins to blossom under Elli's attentions. And Lina Leandersson makes an incredibly charismatic and otherworldly dark angel, trapped in the unassuming body of a very normal-looking girl. Her incredibly expressive eyes mirror (quite appropriately, of course) much more experience, wisdom, and destructive violence than her regular-girl features initially let on.

Hollywood's reputedly optioned an Americanized version of Let the Right One In. I'm sure it'll completely torpedo everything unique and wonderful about the original, so it's extra-important to catch Tomas Alfredson's masterful contribution to the genre before Hollywood turns his gorgeous Bach concerto of a horror movie into the cinematic equivalent of a Hannah Montana music video.

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