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Let the Right One In a haunting, blood-curdling love story

by Glen Baity

Let the Right One In a haunting, blood-curdling love story

If you’ve only surveyed the undead landscape in the last few weeks, you might not realize it, but: Not all vampires sparkle in the sunshine. Take Let the Right One In, a muchheralded indie horror out of Sweden opening Friday at the Carousel Cinemas. Sure, it’s about a boy and a girl who make a connection across a great divide (he’s human, she’s not). But that’s the just about the only similarity between bloodsucker-of-the-moment Twilight and this chiller from distant shores. Let’s back up a bit, though, because the interspecies romance doesn’t come in until later. Let the Right One In centers on Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a waifish, 13-year-old punching bag for his school’s gang of bullies. The awkward teen passes his long nights in the Stockholm suburbs fantasizing about the violent deaths of his enemies and making serial killer scrapbooks (I’m not sure whether the film intends to portray him as a nascent school shooter, but it’s hard to avoid that line of thought). Oskar is so anxious about his day-to-day misery that he doesn’t notice his new next-door neighbors, a reclusive older man and his young, dark-eyed companion. Soon after these two set up shop in Oskar’s neighborhood, news gets out of a string of brutal, unsolved attacks and murders in the area. Oskar’s mother forbids him from leaving the apartmentcomplex courtyard after nightfall, drastically restricting his already-limited social opportunities. One night, while sitting alone on what must be the saddest jungle gym in Sweden, Oskar meets reticent, mysterious Eli (Lina Leandersson). Each isolated in their own way, the two strike up a fast friendship that soon becomes a sweet romance. It’s all complicated, however, by the revelation that Eli only comes out at night for a very good reason. There are some gruesome moments in director Tomas Alfredson’s film, adapted to the screen by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his own novel. Eli’s helper, Hakan (Per Ragnar) does her dirty work for her, scoping out victims, draining their blood and returning the spoils to his adolescent master. He’s not terribly good at it, either, which makes the stalking sequences incredibly tense. Alfredson paces these moments perfectly, keeping the viewer on edge for the hunt, the kill and the inevitable point when it all goes haywire. As good as these scenes are, they’re not the film’s strongest. This is a story that concerns itself, first and foremost, with its characters, and it’s that quality that makes Let the Right One In such a standout. The film is less interested in blood and guts than in the odd relationship between Oksar and Eli, and it’s here that it finds a surprising warmth. Leanersson and Hedebrant share a rare chemistry, turning in compelling, adult performances that capture both the wistfulness and intensity of first love. Alfredson casts them against the Kubrickian stillness of the Swedish winter, which amplifies their need for one another. It also makes more startling the sudden wave of violence that rides into town with Eli and her Renfield.

Every good piece of vampire fiction has to tweak the mythology a bit, but Let the Right One In doesn’t make a show of it. The film doesn’t hold fast to some of the sillier superstitions — Eli shows up just fine in a mirror, and garlic doesn’t rate high on her list of foods to avoid. But she needs to be invited into any home she enters, an old part of the motif that doesn’t get much play in modern vampire fiction. It’s an interesting choice by Lindqvist, one that puts into focus how cautious these characters are with one another, and how unbelievably fragile their situation is. Let the Right One In is that once-in-ablue-moon genre picture that effortlessly and completely transcends convention. It’s also, of course, already optioned for an American remake. I’m not saying the Yank version is doomed to fail, but the assembly of talent here will be hard to duplicate. Do yourself a favor: Let this one in first.

To comment on this article, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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