With the film version of young-adult fiction sensation Twilight imminent—and the trailer for Thirteen director Catherine Hardwicke’s adaptation does looks pretty great—it’s shaping up as a big moment for the underaged undead.
Onscreen and in print, vampire juveniles have had their most impressive prior outings via horror-lit faves Stephen King and Anne Rice, whose Salem’s Lot and Interview with the Vampire featured infant and preadolesent-girl vamps that continued to disturb in respective miniseries and big-screen adaptations. (The Interview movie, you might recall, introduced a pint-sized Kirsten Dunst as the eerily jaded young vampiress.) But these were strictly supporting characters.
New Swedish import Let the Right One In is, by contrast, all about underage drinking—blood-drinking, that is. (Ka-boom-cha!) Yet even more, it’s about growing pains…coming of age…first love…not unlike James at 15, My So-Called Life, and so forth. The major wrinkle being that one of its two 12-year-old misfits has, uh, been that age for a very long time.
Adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his novel, and directed by Swedish film/TV veteran Tomas Alfredson, Let the Right One In is a poignant, nuanced, original addition to the cinematic vampire canon. Those looking for cheap thrills may be turned off by its slow pacing and restrained approach toward the usual genre goods. It does pack a few satisfying jolts, nonetheless.
Towheaded Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) lives with his harried, divorced mother in a characterless suburban apartment complex. At school, he’s ignored by everyone save a group of boys led by the mercilessly bullying Erik (Henrik Dahl), whom Oskar fantasizes stabbing to death with a hunting knife. He’s in the midst of one such reverie when he meets mysterious new neighbor Eli (Lina Leandersson), who is definitely different—for one thing, she seems strangely unaffected by the freezing winter weather, wearing just a thin jacket while hanging in the complex’s courtyard. She lives with Haxan (Per Ragnar), a middle-aged man residents assume is her father—but their relationship is more master-servant (or Dracula-Renfield). It’s Haxan who’s the usual bagman in finding her required source of liquid nourishment, which soon has the area reeling from a series of grotesque attacks and killings. But Eli is quite capable of taking matters into her own hands when he blunders.
By the time Oskar realizes what Eli is—she’s already pointedly told him "I’m not a girl"—their fragile friendship has already grown deep enough that he’s willing to overlook her, er, peculiarities. (He’s a bit of an odd, morbid kid himself, anyway.) She encourages him to stand up for himself to the bullies, though that has unpleasant consequences. So does Eli’s random assaults on a group of old farts who have an unfortunate habit of stumbling drunkenly homeward on abandoned late-night streets.
Let the Right One In toys with some standard supernatural devices—vampire allergy to sunlight, and the title’s reference to their needing to be invited into a victim’s home—but discards others. Some narrative details are left teasingly blank. (I was frustrated only by a bit of unexplained strangeness involving a friend of Oskar’s absentee dad.) Violence and gore does occur, but it’s very carefully reserved for brief, sudden maximum impact. The striking widescreen images balance snow-globe lyricism with a caustic view of the town’s glum ordinariness. Rumor has it that an English-language remake is in the works, but do yourself a favor and see this version—no doubt it’ll turn out to be the right one.
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