I went to the movies tonight and saw Let The Right One In, a Swedish vampire film. I caught it at a local theater called the Bijou, which specializes in foreign and art films. They also have a sizable menu, including everything from standard movie fare like popcorn and nachos to salads, burgers, wine, beer, and Starbucks coffee. I had read a lot about this film, and everything I read was positive, which is rare. I didn't think it would make it to my neck of the woods, because such films are hit-or-miss here, but I picked up a copy of the local independent newspaper(The Current) and saw an ad for it. I knew what I was doing this weekend after reading that...and I was not dissapointed.
The movie is about a young boy named Oskar ( Kare Hedebrant) who is bullied regularly at school. He dreams of violent retaliation, but doesn't follow through with it. One night, he sees a man with a young girl move in to his apartment building. The man puts cardboard over all the windows for some reason. On one cold Winter evening, Oskar is out in the courtyard, stabbing a tree with his knife, fantasizing of revenge on his tormentors, when he meets the new neighbor girl Eli ( Lina Leandersson). Eli is also twelve years "or so" old. At first she is standoffish with Oskar, but the two start to form a friendship. Eli also doesn't seem to feel the cold, sitting outside in the Swedish Winter night without a coat.
We soon learn that Eli is a vampire, who has been twelve years old "for a long time", and the man living with her is a servant of sorts, his job being to procure blood for her by killing townspeople. He proves to be inept at this, and Eli is forced to get her own meals. Eli and Oskar's relationship becomes closer, with Eli giving Oskar the courage to stand up to his tormentors, and Eli finding someone to care about in Oskar. Oskar eventually learns Eli's true nature. How will he react to this revelation? Will the townspeople find out what Eli really is? Will Oskar be able to escape the bullies' plan for revenge against him?
Let The Right One In, directed by Tomas Alfredson, is a very different vampire film. This is evident right from the opening credits, which play over a black background with complete silence, eventually turning into a serene snowfall. There are many shots of the snow and ice on the trees and buildings, and these are truly beautiful. The Swedish Winter is a unique backdrop for a vampire film, its quiet beauty and isolation adding emphasis to the characters' initial emotional isolation. The white Winter backdrop also makes anything with color pop out...there's a scene where Oskar gives Eli a Rubik's Cube to play with, and it's so colorful in comparison to the snowy backdrop that it fairly blasts out like a beacon.The same quiet beauty is also in sharp contrast to the sudden bursts of violence and horror that punctuate the film. There's blood shed in this film, and its fairly graphic and nasty. Throats are cut and bitten, blood is drank, and limbs are severed. Especially gruesome is the scene towards the end of the film at the pool...I won't say any more, as I don't want to spoil it for anyone. Let's just say if you like graphic violence in your horror movies, this scene will put a smile on your demented little face.I also want to mention the use of sound in the film. Overall it's a fairly quiet film, but there are moments when you can hear things, like Eli's growls or her making sounds of hunger. I think it's a good example of a filmmaker using all the elements of film at his disposal to make something unique and artistic.
There are so many noteworthy moments in this film...we see what happens when a vampire enters a home uninvited, for example. We also see how a vampire's helper, who is about to be caught due to carelessness, makes himself unrecognizable with a jar of acid. We learn that cats do not like vampires at all. And, on a more humanistic note, we see how these two young (at least one is young-looking) outsiders meet and go from lonely outcasts to two lost souls who care deeply for one another.
Let The Right One In is not only a good vampire film, but a good film period. I'm sure that Twilight will make tons of cash off of the teen crowd that eats that kind of stuff up, and it may even be a good flick for what it is...but if you want to see what a real filmmaker can do with the form , and with vampires, check out Let The Right One In. If it's not playing in your town, rent it as soon as it comes out on DVD. Apparently it's going to be re-made by some American studio, which means it'll lose any uniqueness the original possesses, and be just like every other film out there, and it'll have a 99.9% chance of sucking big time. If you can, go see it. The Beast gives it five out of five clawmarks.