Friday, November 7, 2008

My pre-teen girlfriend is a vampire

In Let The Right One In, a fragile introverted boy, 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is regularly bullied by his stronger classmates but never strikes back. His wish for a friend comes true when he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), also 12, who moves into the apartment next door with a man who is presumably her father. But coinciding with Eli's arrival is a series of disappearances and macabre murders—a man is found strung up in a tree, another frozen in the lake, a woman bitten in the neck. Captivated by the gruesome stories and by Eli’s idiosyncrasies (she is only seen at night, and unaffected by the freezing cold), it doesn't take long before Oskar figures out that Eli is a vampire. Nevertheless, their friendship strengthens, and a subtle romance blossoms as the youngsters become inseparable. In spite of Oskar’s loyalty to her, Eli knows that she can only continue to live if she keeps on moving. But when Oskar faces his darkest hour, Eli returns to defend him the only way she can.

"Let the Right One In," a spooky Swedish thriller that manages to break the rules of the genre while holding on to many of the rituals that remain dear to the hearts of vampire fans. The twist here is that the vampire is an adolescent girl named Eli (Leandersson), who has been 12 years old, as she puts it, "for a very long time." Almost immediately she's smitten with Oskar (Hedebrant), a geeky blond kid who gets picked on by school bullies. Eli and Hakan are newcomers in a small town of sullen drunken locals who are suspicious of all newcomers -- let alone ones who act strangely while towns-people turn up dead and drained of blood. Hakan's efforts to carry on his work inconspicuously are ultimately as futile as Eli's to be invisible. It isn't long before she is left to her own vampiric devices, even as her feelings for Oskar deepen. Loneliness keeps them together, but the reality of their situation and the separateness of their private hells ultimately dooms them. Both Hedebrandt and Lena Leandersson are marvelously affecting in that minimalist Nordic acting style. While Eli shows Oskar how to stand up for himself, her ties to her serial-killer companion are loosened, and "Let the Right One In" becomes a perverse variation on a coming-of-age romance. It's at its most twisted when Oskar cuts himself and Eli responds with a frightening display of blood lust. This, however, turns out to be a rare example of her restraint. When she attacks an older woman, who quickly becomes a member of the undead, a colony of cats rips into the victim's flesh and makes mincemeat of her. And that's far from all; Eli is just saving up her energy for a shocker finale. There's just something vampirism and adolescence that makes for a perfect fit. If you think about it, the legend of the vampire has always been one of the outcast, the count in his castle who can never find love because he's only going to outlive his mortal beloved or end up sucking her blood. And when did you feel the most like an outcast? Like someone who will never find true love? The filmmakers do not feel the need to constantly advance the plot; one of the sweetest scenes has Oskar and his mother wandering around their apartment together while brushing their teeth! Alfredson brilliantly employs the Swedish snow and chilly, gray weather, and the climactic showdown, set in a swimming pool, is a stunner. But what finally emerges is a tender, moving relationship between two confused, lost young people. As a bonus, to the best of my knowledge, this is also the first movie to depict exactly what happens when a vampire enters a dwelling without having been invited. The bloody payoff stuff is there, the wall-crawling and flying, the vampire bursting into flames under sunlight, a decapitation. And yet, a movie with no small amount of blood (and some wicked revenge turned against the school bullies -- only one of whom is actually remorseless) manages to evoke sympathy and a weird sort of ennui-driven pathos. Eli and Oskar are a love story with all the subdued passion and subtext you'd never think to expect from a Swedish film. very surprising and very satisfying for any fan of the genre. Don't be afraid to let this one in. A hearty 4 on my "Go See" scale.

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