Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Let the Right One In

2008
Dir. Tomas Alfredson

Lonely 12 year old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is bullied by his classmates and all but neglected by his mother. One night, while sitting on the climbing frame outside his housing complex, he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson) who has just moved into the flat next door to his with her strange guardian Håken (Per Ragnar). And so a gentle friendship begins. Eli gives Oskar the strength to hit back when he is bullied, and Oskar takes it all in his stride (the way only 12 year olds can do) when he realises Eli is a vampire…

‘Can I come in? Say that I can come in.’

Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist and adapted from his own novel, Let the Right One In has, like its little vampire protagonist, subtly worked its way into the minds and hearts of audiences everywhere. Emerging from relative obscurity, it has found a large enough audience to become the sleeper hit of the year so far. And rightly so.

The two leads deliver mesmerising performances. Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar is compelling to watch. When we first encounter him, it is his reflection in the window of his bedroom we see first. This image speaks volumes about his ostracism from society – he appears as a lonely projection of himself. However as the film progresses, he becomes more fleshed out and his relationship with Eli is really the heart of the story. Lina Leandersson as Eli strikes the right balance between innocence and sinister maturity. We are given the bare bones of her history, but it is more than enough to assure us she is equal parts victim and monster. The fact that she is trapped for eternity in the body of a child is more than a little unnerving, given her experiences. When she is discovered nestled animal-like in a bathtub by an intruder, we feel genuine concern for her as she huddles sleeping in her blankets. She is, after all, only a little girl. Isn’t she? There is something quite feral in her movements, as she flits about cautiously one minute and moves in swiftly for the kill the next. The sound effects that accompany her feeding are sufficiently disturbing and the sight of her quickly crawling up the side of the hospital building is also wonderfully chilling.



Imbued with a distinct fairytale-like quality and seeping with creativity, the film is frozen over with chilly imagery that will sear itself into your mind; from the constant flurrying snow and vaporising breath, to the sight of Eli wandering through the icy night in her bare feet. The only warmth that omits from the story is the tentative relationship between Oskar and Eli, and even this is at times tinged with ambiguity and menace. We have already seen what the ‘little girl’ is capable of and are all too aware of her strength and cunning.

Director Alfredson has a seamless ability to conjure up the most provocative images to enhance the story: everything appears almost bleached out, save for a startling red berry here, or a drop of blood on crisp white snow there. The way he balances scenes of quiet drama with more intense moments is pitch perfect.
Indeed, those wanting a truly visceral feast will no doubt dribble with glee during the climactic swimming pool massacre or throughout the series of increasingly distressing events that befall one of Eli’s victims who is unfortunate enough to survive the attack… Perhaps being a vampire is not so ‘cool’ after all.

The film’s adherence to old vampire folklore is interesting too – the title itself comes from the notion that vampires may only cross the threshold of a home if they are invited. If they are not, the consequences are apparently dire.

As dreamily beautiful and delicate as the film looks, the story never lies huddled in the corner under an abundance of stylisation. The measured direction and gentle pace serve to better absorb us into the bloodstream of the eerie world in which the story unfolds. The way in which events insidiously work their way into your consciousness and chill the spinal column as they go, is remarkable. Nothing seems contrived: we are left to process events and details and the film makers don’t see fit to spoon-feed their audience. The subtle nuances gradually build to a fitting denouement. All captured nicely by the dreamily crisp cinematography courtesy of Hoyte Van Hoytema. That’s not say we are left wondering what has just happened: the film takes its time but it does deliver, and when it does, chances are you will be reeling from the impact.



While Eli makes Oskar believe in himself enough to stand up to his tormentors, one can’t help but think of her reasons. They do genuinely care for each other. We are reminded of her silent guardian Håken who was responsible for hunting down fresh blood for her and the lengths he went to in order to protect her: the way she suggestively stroked his face, fleetingly threw a stark light on the depth and true nature of their relationship. Oskar’s loyalty to Eli and the two’s seemingly necessary co-dependency suggests he might be a fitting replacement. Perhaps Eli and Håken once recognised within each other the kindred spirit that she now shares with Oskar; despondent and dysfunctional souls existing on the periphery of life. Her nurturing, and grooming, of Oskar to ensure her own survival, is an aspect of the film that perturbs the most.

Johan Söderqvist’s hauntingly beautiful score is equal parts brooding and lushly moving, and perfectly enhances the intimately epic nature of the story.

There is so much more I would love to discuss about this film, but I really don’t want to give too much away – I hope I haven’t done that already. Seek this film out and watch it.

Chilling, brittle and bittersweet - and guaranteed to not thaw out of your thoughts for a long time to come…

4 comments:

Matt-suzaka said...

I was lucky enough to see this film a while back and it is one of my top two favorite films from last year. It is really an amazing piece of film and may be one of the best vampire films of the last few decades, maybe even one of the best films in the horror genre in the past couple decades too. It's trully an instant classic.

I am however very dissapointed that the recent U.S. release of the film had muddled up subtitles...I acually returned my copy and will wait for the correct version to come out on DVD. Until then I still have the foriegn copy to watch, so I'm in no rush.

Great review!

christine said...

I love that you loved this movie!
We got to see it on the big screen in a packed theater. It was an amazing experience.
It is a hauntingly beautiful yet eerie and unsettling film. I look forward to actually owning it.

james gracey said...

Yes Matt, i heard about a mix up with subtitles. how annoying!

i too look forward to owning it, Christine. It still creeps into my thoughts from time to time. Great film.

Cheers, guys.

Matt A said...

Hey James - we are of the same mind about this excellent film - I like your blog too, wanna swap links?
I edit Darkmatters - here's a link to my LTROI review: http://darkmatt.blogspot.com/2009/08/darkmatters-review-let-right-one-in.html
cheers!!