10 April 2009

Let the Right One In

Let the Right One In
starring Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
written by John Ajvide Lindqvist (based on his book)
directed by Tomas Alfredson
EFTI, 2008, 114 mins.,

*** (out of ****)

I have never been freaked out by a vampire before Let the Right One In played on my TV screen, let alone a vampire that looks like a 12-year old. This is just one example of the power this dark Swedish film has.

For those who have been hiding under a rock for a few months, while Twilight was making its rounds at cineplexes giving teenage girls heart-attacks of the "hotness" that is Robert Pattison, this little picture made its way through, I believe, 200 screens domestically. But little screenings that there were, the film still made an impression, and ended up on plenty of "Best of 2008" lists.

After finally seeing it, I would agree with that.

12-year old Oskar lives a lonely existence - he wakes up, goes to school, has zero friends and gets bullied on near constantly, goes on, and the day repeats. The only comfort he has is going outside at night to play around with his nifty knife. However, a recent spree of blood-letting killings is making the community tense and weary of people, so that also puts a damper on life. But there's a upside: out of nowhere, a strange girl named Eli, apparently also 12, becomes acquaintances with Oskar, and the two strike up a deep bond. The thing is, Eli isn't exactly what she seems - in fact, she's sort of a vampire. Basically, the entire movie is about their friendship and the implications and the danger that brings. But, y'know, it's riveting.

So, basically, what makes Let the Right One In so good? For me, it's the characters, specifically Eli. Sure, Oskar is alright, but he comes off as a bit irritating here and there, and sort of a jackass in a few scenes. But it's Eli that is the most captivating. Lina Leandersson blows Kirsten Dunst's role in Interview with a Vampire out of the ballpark; I can honestly say I can't think of any other child actor being able to pull off a better vampire. She's a scene-stealer, and she freaks you out even during the more intimate moments between the two; there's always that sense of danger, that she might just loose control and then it'd be bon voyage Oskar. That's not exactly a easy task to accomplish, but Lina makes it seem effortless.

But there's also the Oskar/Eli moments that make this film so profoundly interesting and worthwhile to rewatch many times over. Their friendship begins by late night excursions of Oskar finding some sort of solace in his messed up life, and Eli shows up out of nowhere for conversation. One review I read said that they were basically made for each other, and that is pretty much echoed in the movie, where Eli compares her to him, saying that he wishes to draw blood, whereas she has no choice - she kills to live. It's the writing and the acting that make this film, no doubt.

My only real problem with the movie is that there's no real backstory to Eli; she's such a interesting character, so one sorta wants to know how her vampire lifestyle came about. She's clearly comfortable with her own body and her structure of life now, but I wouldn't have minded perhaps two sentences saying that she was - say, was walking around in 1909 and got bit by some strange woman? The book the movie's based on apparently includes such a backstory, and that alone might make it worth a read. It's a minor grievance, but hardly wrecks the viewing enjoyment.

A big part of the hype surrounding the film is its ending, which was heralded as a masterpiece. Um, not exactly. It's a damn fine conclusion, and a logical finale to a storyline that pervades throughout the film, but it's nothing that's going to blow one's socks off. (Spoilers) Perhaps it's the murder of children characters that gives it its unique and special status, but otherwise, it's not jaw-dropping. If you approach it from a story-point level, there was truly no other way that storyline was going to end. Although the outside skating sequence when Oskar whips one of the bullies is a nice strengthening moment for the character, I thought it was rather obvious the kid didn't have enough backbone to finish anything himself. It seemed quite clear that Eli was going to intervene from the get-go. (End spoilers) But I still dug the ending - I've re-watched it multiple times already.

This being a good movie, an American remake is on the way, evidently already planned for a 2010 release. Who woulda thunk it? Surely not I! Suffice it to say, I'm not happy about it. There's simply no way they could Americanize or improve this movie. It's pretty much perfect the way it is; they could only bastardize some of the more awesome moments. Story aside, this film works because of those memorable moments that probably wouldn't make it pass the American MPAA (e.g., the finale). I would only be able to back this production up if director Alfredson took the reins and filmed it here, like Hideo Nakata did for The Ring Two (although that didn't turn out exactly any better). However, I do like the title change to Let Me In - it makes a little bit more sense than Let the Right One In. The use of "Right One" made me think that there was perhaps a army of sadistic, ruthless vampires and amongst this group there was a Angel-like figure. Whether it's any good, I'll be there to see it; I like the idea enough to see how we handle it.

Let the Right One In is a interesting movie about a relationship between a boy and a girl, with the added complication of the girl being a vampire and potentially killing him - but all relationships have their little quips, yeah? The film comes highly recommended, so add it to your Netflix Que pretty much now.

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