Monday, March 16, 2009

Knock, Knock

Let the Right One In (2008)

Yumpin’ yimmeny, dere is vampyres in der town, ya.

When you think of all things Swedish, vampires aren’t normally at the top of the list. That all changes after watching this movie. It’s been called the anti-Twilight, but other than both films involving vampires and being adapted from novels, that’s where the similarities end.

Let The Right One In centers on 12 year old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) a child of divorced parents who is constantly bullied at school. Into his life walks Eli (Lina Leandersson; voice dubbed by Elif Ceylan) another 12 year old with a secret – she’s a vampire. They are drawn to each other by their shared loneliness during a cold Stockholm winter in the early 1980s.

I won’t drone on about the plot, needless to say when you are bullied at school and make friends with a vampire, that issue will be addressed. But it’s not merely My Bodyguard with a vampire (although I’m surprised Hollywood hasn’t done that idea yet); this movie is much too smart to go that simple a route.

The two young lead actors are outstanding. You really feel Oskar’s pain at being bullied, and wish that he could stand up to them. When Oskar and Eli connect over a Rubik’s Cube it is sweet and touching. And when Eli does what all vampires must you feel sorry for her, rather than repulsed – she is only doing what she must to live.

This movie is full of little details, like Eli’s old caretaker covering up the windows immediately after they move into the apartment next to Oskar, and Eli’s odd-sounding stomach growls when she gets hungry. And she’s not hungry for chocolate, as Oskar discovers at one point. Another detail lies in the great cinematography, most notably with what is kept in focus and what is allowed to be lost in a blur.

Any film featuring vampires will be classified as a horror movie, but that’s pigeonholing this film. The vampire elements are treated very realistically – no shape-shifting into bats or changing into mist here. In fact, if you removed the vampire aspects you would still have an outstanding film; one that looks at innocence, loneliness, revenge and violence.

I like the fact that it’s not an American film, set in L.A. or New York, but a European film set in a small Swedish suburb. It’s refreshing to watch a non-American movie that’s not totally foreign (you hear me weird French movies?), but still different. I guess it’s a cultural thing. There are only a few movies set in winter or snowy climes where I got a genuine chill (in a good way) while watching it – John Carpenter’s The Thing and Fargo are on that list, and now so is this film. One other thing: when we popped in the DVD its apparent default is the English-dubbed version, where all the kids sound like they’re dubbed by women (like in Japanese monster movies). DO NOT watch it this way, but switch to Swedish language with English subtitles.

Wait for a cold, snowy night if possible and let this movie in.

Ps: There is an American remake planned for a 2010 release (by the director of Cloverfield). Goddamn movie companies want to wring every last penny out of any and every idea. There is NO WAY an American remake will be as good as the Swedish original. Current American sensibilities will only neuter this great little story.

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