Let The Right One In (2008), or Blood On The Ice

11 04 2009

Oh, Sweden. You are so quiet, so beautiful, so eloquent and intelligent. You keep your mouth sealed so much of the time, but when you speak, it is woven silver, it is gold and diamonds. Today we take a look at the vampire romance genre from a completely different perspective.  We have seen the epic, sweeping star-crossed love of Bella and Edward in Twilight, and we all know how that worked out. The good folks from the Kingdom of the Swedes have adopted a more naturalistic and minimalist stance on the idea of something as supernatural and outlandish as a vampire, and that is perhaps the secret to this film’s success.

It is a story about the outcast, like many vampire stories. Oskar is a 12 year-old boy in the early 1980s. He is a skinny bleach-blond Scandinavian kid with no friends at school or at home. He is constantly bullied around by a group of ruffians, so at night when he is alone (and he is always alone) he brandishes a small knife of his and has violent fantasies of claiming revenge on the kids. One night he goes out by his apartment complex’s playground and, while imagining his torturers at the end of his blade, he meets a mysterious girl on the jungle gym. She says her name is Eli, and she is Oskar’s next-door neighbor. She also says that they cannot be friends. Oskar, trying to play it cool, tries to shrug that off. She is aloof that night, however, and he gets nothing out of her. But Oskar is persistent and returns again the next night, and the next, and the next. She had been waiting for him that next night, and slowly they begin to hit it off despite Eli’s previous warning. There is something strange about this girl, though, and Oskar begins to pick up on it. She does not go to school, she is nowhere to be found during the day, and she never eats. In the face of this, we see a strong love bloom in his eyes for this strange little girl, and that love begins to be reciprocated in the heart of someone who never thought that love was an option. But can that love be realized when Eli’s nocturnal activities leaves corpses in her wake and alarms the entire town?

This is probably the best vampire romance film out there right now. As I mentioned earlier, part of what makes this movie so good is its ability to make this ridiculous concept believable. When you have super-human vampires running around, every director starts to pump up the music and the glossy tight shots almost in spite of themselves. It makes it dramatic and symbolic to the point of becoming a joke, and all credibility is lost when something becomes too theatrical. Let The Right One In takes a composed step away from the violence and spectacle, turns down the music, and lets the idea come as a natural progression. Eli is a girl with an insatiable addiction, and we gradually come to see that being a vampire is not something she relishes in. It is a real step away from the “Oooh, look at my cool super-vampire powers! Isn’t it awesome to be us?!” mentality that most movies, whether it is spoken or subliminal, are adopting nowadays. Admittedly, at times, the spectacle becomes too much for director Tomas Alfredson to ignore, and he takes a few unnecessarily lingering shots on some dramatic shots, and some special effect work is a bit on the maudlin side (when sunlight touches a vampire, it is unlike all the other subtle touches and they just start to instantly burst into flames), but it is nevertheless pointing in the right direction as a cohesive body of work.

Little Oskar, played by Kare Hedebrant, is such a sad figure that he almost overshadows the weight Eli has to bear. He is extraordinarily lonely. His mother is sweet and takes care of him, but he is absolutely isolated. When Eli meets him, a sigh of almost audible relief escaped from me. And it made the times when Eli was gone ever the more harrowing because I desired friendship so much for him. Not to say that Lina Leandersson, who played the dyspeptic Eli, was a slouch. She was perfect as a sullen predator, a little girl who probably never wanted to be a killer. I liked her in spite of her murderous ways. She and Oskar have a beautiful, pure relationship that is put to the test by a number of things, but never at any point do they have anything but good intentions for each other. It’s sweet, and even though I am a bit of a softy, you might wind up rooting for them as well.

It’s a character-driven vampiric odyssey through the snowy recesses of youth’s heart. Fueled by wonderfully string arrangement, a cold, minimalist directorial approach, and actors that are genuine and wholehearted, Let The Right One In (aka Lat den ratte komma in) seats the lore of vampires in something entirely believable for a change, making it perhaps the first one I have ever seen to make me even consider that there might yet be hope for this genre. The movie is Swedish, so for you myopic punks who don’t like to “read you movies”, you can always wait for 2010, when America will be directing a remake called Let Me In, which will probably be inferior to this unique work. So, all things considered, I give Let The Right One In 8 1/2 spontaneously combusting vampires out of 10.

Tomorrow is Easter! And in honor of Jesus “rising from the dead”, I’ll be reviewing a zombie movie of my choice. Because, let’s be honest, which is more likely: an afterlife where we are each individually judged for our sins by some self-righteous sky apparition, or the dead rising from the grave and wreaking havoc upon us? I’m betting on the latter, so stay away from the cemeteries tomorrow and stick around here for a special Cinematronica Easter Extravanganza!

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