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November 17, 2008
RATING: 9/10
The close of director Tomas Alfredson's film, Let The Right One In (Swedish: Lat den rätte komma in), is easily one of the most compelling and unexpected climaxes in recent cinematic memory. Any approach to the film, which was adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his own novel of the same name, should necessarily be made with an eye toward its artistic merits because, though the storyline revolves around a vampire, Let The Right One In (LTROI) is ultimately an art film.

Unfortunately, in this season of renewed interest in depictions of the undead, the mere thought of yet another vampire tale will leave many potential viewers disengaged. Which is understandable. Currently hordes of people are obsessing over a wide range of viewable vampire fiction, from DVD collections of Joss Whedon's oft-brilliant Buffy The Vampire Slayer to the over-hyped Twilight and True Blood television series to the cinematic abortions of the Underworld films. There is no denying that nerds dig vampires, a fact which can frankly be rather annoying. Much in the same way that the armchair jock douchebag from Accounts Receivable incessantly recites sports statistics or the way card-carrying Republican dolts ceaselessly mention Barack Obama's middle name, those who obsess over vampire tales generally tend to suck the fun and intrigue out of one of the most interesting literary and cinematic character types of all time. Cartoonish, sun-shy Goths do for the vampire archetype what those same archetypal vampires do to their victims, slowly draining away all the joie de vivre until all that remains is an empty shell of something once brilliant and full of potential. This kind of undead overkill is enough to break a horror loving nerd's geeky little heart. Fortunately for us all, in the midst of a thousand bloodsucking, cliché-riddled tales comes a sweet little piece of independent cinema from Sweden that is sure to do for the vampire film what The Dark Knight did for comic book adaptations.



LTROI starts out simple enough with a young boy, Oskar, staring disconnectedly out the window of a large apartment block in a snowy Stockholm suburb, his hand pressed longingly against the cold glass. Below, a taxi delivers a strange pair, a man and a young girl, to the building, where they take up residence in an apartment next door to Oskar's. The new neighbors are shown to be quiet and anti-social, like Oscar, to the point that the man puts paper over the windows to obscure from the outside world the one hiding within. The next day we see the twelve-year-old Oskar, a quiet child from a broken home, being picked on at school by bullies.

After school, as darkness falls Oskar can be found outside, friendless and alone on a frozen playground, repeatedly stabbing the trunk of a tree with a hunting knife, acting out violent fantasy scenarios of revenge against his tormentors. It is then that the eerie and pale figure of the young girl from next door suddenly appears behind him, silently watching Oskar's desperate bit of homicidal theater. There is a slow build as Oskar and the girl, who calls herself Eli, form the beginnings of the kind of deeply codependent friendship that only truly lonely people can maintain. Eli questions Oskar's aggressive behavior and he in turn questions her attire, as she stands in several inches of snow and ice without so much as a jacket.

Her immunity to cold is not Eli's only peculiarity. On the same night as Oskar and Eli's first encounter, we see the man Eli arrived with, who she describes as her "father," immobilize a man in a park with the use of an anesthetic bottle. Eli's father then drags the man into the woods, hanging him upside-down and cutting his throat to collect blood - similar to the way a deer is butchered - before being interrupted by a pesky dog and two hikers who wander by. Forced to abandon the draining body before the bloodletting is complete, the man returns home to a visibly ravenous Eli, who curses him for his incompetence. The next night, while Oskar is at home adding to his scrapbook of gruesome attacks clipped from the newspaper, we see Eli feeding herself; whimpering in the dark under a bridge, she lures in an unsuspecting drunkard and then pounces on him, chewing on his neck. Eli, it turns out, is a very dangerous vampire trapped in the body of a twelve-year-old girl.



There are some interesting subplots in LTROI involving the social dynamics of Oskar's neighbors, several of whom become food for Eli. The film also touches on the standard lore about what a vampire can and cannot do, but adds interesting twists - especially a scene where Oskar demands that Eli show him what happens if she enters his home uninvited. There are other mysteries regarding Eli's gender and her relation to her "father," a man who seems more like a servant than a parent and regards Oskar with an almost jealous contempt. Old and weak and without much enthusiasm for killing, Eli's "father" is portrayed as an elder mirror to Oskar; both have a similar demeanor and concern for Eli, and both are anti-social loners who pine for the girl's attention and bend to her will. The unsettling sexual tension between the girl and both of her male counterparts is deeply sad and creepy.



The film has a slow burn, and like all good vampire stories has plenty of meandering twists and turns, but is uniquely told within the microcosm that is the world of a Swedish sixth grader. In this miniature environment all the normal vampire clichés are economized: the body count is lower, the angry mob hunting the vampire is a party of one, and there is nary a set of oversized fangs to be seen. To reveal too much about the plot would be to ruin the pleasure of watching the film unfold, but needless to say there are lessons learned. Despite her own near-feral viciousness, Eli teaches Oskar how to focus his violent tendencies in a healthier way, probably preventing the Columbine-style meltdown that Oskar seems destined for at the film's open. Most of Alfredson's camerawork wanders sleepily through long, understated shots of a landscape hushed by a thick blanket of snow, but there are enough moments of suspense and tension to keep the story moving forward, and as mentioned the film's climax is one of the most visually arresting and emotionally satisfying of the year.

Certainly as much a quirky, semi-sweet adolescent love story as it is a tale of horror, LTROI is a cinematic gem not to be missed. There are few digital effects in the picture, and the primary focus smartly remains on the complexities of the relationship that develops between the two lead characters, deftly played by Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson. Far from the straight-to-DVD tripe full of undead warriors, vampire sex and innuendo-filled bloodsucking scenes, Lindqvist and Alfredson have designed an artistic treat for anyone tired of the stereotypical trappings of the supernatural genre and ludicrous leather-clad fetish vampires. Let The Right One In is a truly great film worth letting into your cinematic queue, that just happens to have a vampire at its heart.

TRAILER: www.apple.com/trailers/magnolia/lettherightonein

SEE ALSO: www.lettherightoneinmovie.com
SEE ALSO: www.latdenrattekommain.se

--
Jon Burke
A contributing writer and a Chicago resident who will not be goaded by LAS’s editor into revealing any more details about his potentially sordid affairs.

See other articles by Jon Burke.

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