By Dirk Sonniksen | July 1, 2009
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writer(s): John Ajvide Lindqvist (novel and screenplay)
Starring: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
It’s the 1980’s and twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) lives in the harsh, wintery blackness of Sweden. There’s something not quite right about Oskar. It could be that he picks knife fights with trees, is fascinated with violence, is continually bullied by his schoolmates, or maybe those long Swedish nights are just draining a bit of his soul. Regardless of Oskar’s bad state, a savior appears in the form of Eli (Lina Leandersson), a two hundred-year-old vampire that has settled in to graze on Oskar’s sleepy town.
Oskar and Eli meet on the playground at night where the two hit it off, with Oskar being smitten by the young Eli, and Eli being fascinated with Oskar’s Rubik’s cube. Oskar provides something that’s missing in Eli’s somewhat fiendish existence—a friend. In return Eli brings some spice into Oskar’s dreary existence, with more late night meetings at the playground, a fair amount of blood-letting, and a strange romance that forges a symbiotic relationship between the two.
Let The Right One In isn’t your typical vampire flick. There’s no leather pants, Chinese fighting stars dipped in lead, shotguns, discos with laser light shows, or post-punk bands butchering the soundtrack. Instead, you’ll find lots of space; sparse, well-placed dialogue; an excellent cast; and an effective director with a great novel to work from.
Director Tomas Alfredson creates a little Gothic masterpiece based largely on location and time-frame. The bleak cold-war countenance of Sweden in the early 80’s provides the optimal setting for the sluggish working-class (well, it’s Sweden—they’re all working class) in the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg. There’s a sort of hopelessness that pervades the population, accentuated by the stark, white backdrop, communal housing, and drab coffee shop where the locals gather to drink. Blackeberg, a place seemingly insignificant to the outside world, provides the perfect feeding ground for Eli.
Kåre Hedebrant does an outstanding job playing the young, bullied, naive outsider, Oskar. Hedebrant’s character will bring back vivid memories for anyone ever tortured by the school tough. In kind, Lina Leandersson is exceptional as Eli, a character much like Oskar in that she, too, is an outsider, only not so naive. Leandersson is impelling, portraying a seemingly desperate vampire not only bent on survival, but also caught between befriending Oskar and commandeering him to fulfill her own needs.
Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) was a hit at the usual film festivals, including Tribeca, and it’s not surprising. This movie is an understated gem in a genre that is painfully predictable. Foreign films are largely ignored by the general public until they are remade by a mammoth Hollywood studio (Cloverfield‘s Matt Reeves is currently directing the remake Let Me In). They inevitably destroy everything that was wonderful about the original, namely by injecting big name actors, grandiose camera work, and pretentious dialogue. OK, objectivity is not one of my strong suits, but these forays into self-adoration by Hollywood tend to end in disaster. Perhaps these misguided gods of the cinema will learn something from the Swedes this time around.