Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Let The Right One In (Låt Den Rätte Komma In)

You're In

The cinematic vampires I've seen to date in cinemas recently have usually been the ramped up sexy versions, where it's either black leather on lithe female frames, or dreamy hunks to whom teenage girls would sacrifice their necks to in order to live with their lover boy forever.

While the release of Twilight had made a lot of noise in the commercial theatres last year and raking in an obscene amount of money sending fan-girls into a frenzy, one vampire movie has been making its rounds very successfully in the film festival circuit, and the accolades garnered thus far have been nothing less than stellar. Come next week, you too will know why, as Let The Right One In (LTROI) gets its deserved commercial release here.

LTROI is pared down to the very basics, and that in itself is a refreshing take thanks to John Ajvide Lindqvist's story and Tomas Alfredson's assured direction, both confident that there's absolutely no need for artificial spices to spruce up the film. We have the need for plasma for survival, the human type and not cherry ade from animals and tomatoes. Sunlight kills immediately and fiercely, not to introduce some industrial light and magic moments to glitter with sparkle dust. And their condition forces them to be in isolation, because killing sprees bring unwanted attention, but weakness from dawn to dusk means a caretaker is never far. Find out too what the title means, as I believe it's probably a step boldly taken to define certain consequences.

The emotions of their two leads were relied on heavily to bring the narrative forward in what essentially is a very quiet film until feasting time. Eli (Lina Leandersson) arrives in a small town with her minder Hakan (Per Ragnar), who provides for a number moments filled with dark humour no thanks to the unfortunate situations he finds himself stuck in while preparing meals. Their neighbour is a timid boy Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), who has school playground politics problems because of the constant taunting from schoolmates, thus coasting through his existence imagining himself fighting back for some respect, but afraid to translate his bravado for real with that knife he carries around.

Children are such that, with a certain degree of confidence, putting two-two together, you're likely to see a friendship being struck with little or no prejudice. Coming from lonely backgrounds, both strike an almost immediate friendship, despite Eli being able to come out only at night, and some very obvious hints of her nocturnal prowess. To Oskar, Eli is his first real friend who through love, gives him the courage and encouragement to face up to his demons. It's a tender love story between the two even after Oskar's discovery of the true identity of his best friend. But like best friends, such are secrets between themselves, and nothing in the world is going to change that.

It's kinda terrifying knowing that the Oskar in a way condones the killings that Eli commits, and the direction here to show that is unflinching. Given the atmospherically quiet moments, it magnifies every point when the hunter snacks on its prey, with the patches of warm blood staining the pale white face of a child, thanks also to some nifty make up, and special effects where it mattered. The noisy violence is in stark contrast to its more touching moments (the best of which being the still I used), especially if one thinks that Hakan's life is a suggestion to what Oskar's would eventually be if he so decides to follow down the same slippery slope. The toning down of pedophilia, as does Eli's sexual ambiguity, allows for this thought to fester.

I hate to do a comparison here between a truely great genre film and one that aspired to reach its heights, but I guess since many would be familiar with Twilight, allow me to indulge then why LTROI makes Twilight eat sparkle dust. For starters, the latter is your typical Hollywood blockbuster treatment where everything has to be explicitly shown and in verbatim. LTROI leaves it to the greatest tool you possess - your imaginative mind, and that in itself accentuates the level of horror that goes unseen, and giving that all round creepy feeling to it too.

Twilight had a teenage angst romance that was quite childish. LTROI shows how the innocence of love could be miles more mature, with its tender moments here making Bella Swan and Edward Cullen look like adults with bored sex lives. Gone too are (what I deem now as) nonsensical pop and rock tunes peppering the aural track, and the clever use of silence (i.e. knowing when to shut up) served only to highlight genuine tension and impending doom. Yes LTROI is less showy, but miles more effective in its storytelling craft and technique.

For a genuinely satisfying vampire movie, Let The Right One In nails it and deserves being Highly Recommended.

P.S. Hollywood now wants to remake this. Now that's a truly terrifying thought!

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