Let The Right One In
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Oscar, a 12-year-old fragile and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl he befriends, who moves into his building. When Oscar discovers that Eli is a vampire it does not deter his increasing feelings and confused emotions of a young adolescent. When Eli loses the man who protects and provides for her, and as suspicions are mounting from her neighbors and police she must move on to stay alive. However when Oscar faces his darkest hour, Eli returns to defend him the only way she can.
The enduring popularity of the vampire myth rests, in part, on sexual magnetism. In Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson's carefully controlled, yet sympathetic take on John Ajvide Lindqvist's Swedish bestseller-turned-screenplay, the protagonists are pre-teens, unlike the fully-formed night crawlers of HBOs True Blood or Catherine Hardwickes Twilight (both also based on popular novels). Instead, 12-year-old Oskar (future heartbreaker Kåre Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson) enter into a deadly form of puppy love. The product of divorce, Oskar lives with his harried mother, while his new neighbor resides with a mystery man named Håkan (Per Ragnar), who takes care of her unique dietary needs. From the wintery moment in 1982 that the lonely, towheaded boy spots the strange, dark-haired girl skulking around their outer-Stockholm tenement, he senses a kindred spirit. They bond, innocently enough, over a Rubik's Cube, but little does Oskar realize that Eli has been 12 for a very long time. Meanwhile, at school, bullies torment the pale and morbid student mercilessly. Through his friendship with Eli, Oskar doesn't just learn how to defend himself, but to become a sort of predator himself, begging the question as to whether Eli really exists or whether she represents a manifestation of his pent-up anger and resentment. Naturally, the international success of Lindqvist's fifth feature, like Norway's chilling Insomnia before it, has inspired an American remake, which is sure to boast superior special effects, but can't possibly capture the delicate balance he strikes here between the tender and the terrible. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
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An outsider boy, fragile, picked on, and harboring violent fantasies of revenge is befriended by a strange, pale young girl who doesn't
seem to feel the Swedish cold.
It's a strange and fascinating mix of tones; bloody, gory killings, very sweet, well acted pre-teen romance, and occasional black comedy. There's also an interesting, complex morality here. Both our young heroes have deeply violent, sadistic streaks within them. Yet we root for them, even though some off her victims are truly innocent, and he collects stories about murder like a nascent serial killer. It grew even deeper emotionally on 2nd viewing.
One note re the subtitle controversy - the UK blu-ray has the correct subtitles, and plays just fine on US machines. At least it did on mine.
It is important to note that Eli is not a sanitized, sugar-coated vampire as in The Little Vampire or Twilight. For all her frail-looking frame, she is the original blood-sucking, wall-crawling, dismembering horror of the Bram Stoker genre. The gore is not the sensationalized or sadistic fare we are used to today; it is coldly mechanical. Not evil, per se; she kills out of necessity, matter-of-factly, because she needs to in order to survive. Being forever twelve, not just an old vampire in a young body, adds a particularly eerie touch. The honest, endearing smiles from a blood-splattered face are terminally creepy. To portray such multiple orders of monstrosity, while retaining much of her humanity, her need -- that she has all but given up hope for -- to be loved, or at least liked, takes a special actor. Lina Leandersson upholds these dichotomies with aplomb. It is safe to say that Kirsten Dunst's honor as the the archetypal child vampire has been usurped.
But this is not just a horror film; it integrates that horror with outstanding beauty. Just as A Clockwork Orange accomplishes the seemingly impossible of provoking sympathy for murderer-rapist Alex, Let the Right One In provokes sympathy for the little girl who desanguinates a man and coldly snaps his neck. The viewer's notions of good and evil, right and wrong, are desperately challenged. The plot is interwoven with complex morality tangles that don't untangle easily. [Plot spoiler for remainder of paragraph!] I knew the film would be richly complex when, behind the little stone building, Oskar embraces Eli after she vomits up the candy she had tried to eat because he had bought it for her, and in their conversation she asks, "If I weren't a girl, would you still like me?" As for her reaction when he cuts his hand to make a blood-bond with her, you'll have to watch that for yourself.
There have been several complaints about the poor subtitling in the DVD release. I am certain that this is release I saw on cable, because it showed the same DVD cover. Now, my Swedish leaves a lot to be desired, but the bits that I could understand matched the subtitles almost exactly. Being aware that in other films, very notably My Life as a Dog, there were a couple places where the subtitles were a pale comparison to the Swedish dialog, I can see where this could be a disappointment to those who had seen the theatrical release. Nevertheless, since it was the DVD version that mesmerized me to this extent, I would advise no one to skip the DVD offering for this reason. It's plenty good enough as is, far better than most.
Let the Right One In, in a flash, jumped to a high position on my list of all-time favorite films.