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From the DVD Shelf: Josh reviews Let the Right One In (2008)

May 28th, 2010
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I’m behind the eight-ball on this one, I know.  Movie-related web-sites across the web have been showering praise on this small-budget Swedish vampire film for the past two years, but I only recently got around to seeing it.  It’s just as terrific as I’d heard.

Oskar is a twelve-year old boy whose parents are separated.  He doesn’t seem to have any friends, at least not any that we see, and he’s terribly bullied by a trio of boys from school.  Oskar likes to hang-out by himself in the courtyard of the building where he lives with his mother.  One night, he meets a girl, Eli, who has just moved into the building.  The two form a gentle friendship.  Of course, once we see Eli’s father/guardian Hakan murder a man in the woods and drain him of his blood, it’s clear that Eli hides a terrible secret.

That plot could easily describe a film that played into a whole lot of dumb, horror-movie cliches, but I was delighted that nothing could be further from the truth.  Director Tomas Alfredson, working from a screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist (adapting his own novel) has crafted a surprisingly gentle, tender film that is at once sweet and chilling.  Let the Right One In unfolds through a series of small, quiet scenes.  It’s a very still movie (though that stillness is punctuated by a few moments of intense violence).  The way the camera lingers on the frozen, snow-covered landscape reminds me in some ways of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, and also in the way the M. Night Shyamalan was unafraid, in his early films (like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable) to let a quiet long shot tell the story.

All of this would be irrelevant were not the film’s two leads, Kare Hedebrant as Oskar, and Lina Leandersson as Eli, so spectacularly good.  There is no over-acting to be found in this film.  Both Hedebrant and Leandersson are able to express a world of character through their small, underplayed facial expressions, often without speaking a word.  (Or when, as is often the case in real life, the words they are speaking fail to convey what’s really going on in their hearts and minds.)  Whenever I see great performances by child actors, I always credit the director as much as the actors themselves, and so kudos to Mr. Alfredson for drawing such restrained, naturalistic performers out of his stars.

I am not a big horror fan, but Let The Right One In quickly won me over.  I’m so glad to have finally given it a shot.  It’s hard to believe that one could describe a vampire movie as tender, but this one is.  I must also add that it has one of the most powerful final scenes of any film I’ve seen in a long time.  I thought I had the film figured out, but that final scene hit me like a ton of bricks.  It causes the viewer to completely re-evaluate one of the main relationships in the film, and I must admit I’ve been thinking about it ever since seeing it.  It’s hard to shake.  Wonderful.

(A note when watching the DVD or blu-ray.  I strongly suggest setting your disc controls so that you watch the film in the original Swedish, with the subtitles set to English: Theatrical.  Let the Right One In was originally released to disc with notoriously terrible English subtitles.  You can click here for the full story. That has been corrected in later versions of the DVD/blu-ray, which contain the subtitle option English: Theatrical.  You want to be sure to buy/rent a version of this film with those subtitle options, and trust me that they’re the ones to watch.)

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