March 15, 2009

Låt Den Rätte Komma In (2008)

Ever since the publishing of John Polidori's "The Vampyre" in 1819, the folkloric figure of the vampire, that mythical undead being who survives by drinking blood, entered the world of modern fiction. 78 years later, Bram Stoker's highly influential novel, "Dracula", would finish to integrate the vampire to modern culture. After that, the vampire has been a constant theme that lurks in horror fiction, mainly because the attractive and interesting traits of the vampire figure make it very useful to deal with a wide variety of topics. From dashing hero to atrocious monster, the vampire has taken many roles and symbols through its existence on modern fiction, and another proof of the fascination it has on us is 2004's Swedish novel, "Låt Den Rätte Komma in" (literally, "Let the Right One In"), by writer John Ajvide Lindqvis. A supernatural tale of horror and romance that deals with issues like bullying, murder and pedophilia, "Låt Den Rätte Komma in" became a bestseller in its native country, and fortunately, it also became a new chance for the vampire to get into the big screen again.

In the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a lonely 12-year-old boy who is regularly bullied at school. Living with his mother in an apartment building, Oskar spends his time meditating alone and dreaming about getting revenge from the classmates who bully him. One night he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a strange pale girl who seems to be of his same age. Eli has recently moved to the building and comes out only at night. Despite Eli's reluctance, a bond is formed between the two kids, and soon they become close friends, meeting at the building's courtyard or communicating between the apartments via Morse code messages. Eli begins to encourage Oskar to fight back those who bully him, and gives him the strength he needs to stand up. But Elis is not without problems herself, as she is a vampire and needs blood to survive. Her "father", Håkan (Per Ragnar), has been killing local residents in order to provide blood for Eli, but one night he gets caught, so he disfigures himself to avoid being identified. Eli finds herself alone, but Oskar's willing to let her in.

Adapted to the screen by the bestseller's author, John Ajvide Lindqvist himself, "Låt Den Rätte Komma In" is a powerful, melancholic tale of horror that despite the toning down (or complete removing) of several themes of the novel, it still is explores the dark side of humanity in the tragic tale of the love between a lonely kid and his vampire friend. The story's greatest strength is certainly the way the characters are developed, with the relationship between Oskar and Eli taking the central focus of it. But even with a tender love at the center of it, the world of John Ajvide Lindqvist's "Låt Den Rätte Komma In" is a harsh, realistic one, so harsh that the existence of vampires isn't really that terrifying when compared to the bleak world where Oskar has to grow up. The realism extents to the vampire theme too, as "Låt Den Rätte Komma In" doesn't attempt to glamorize (or modernize) the vampire condition, but instead chooses to represent the classic myth with all its "rules" without any concession: the life of a vampire isn't a romantic one, not even an easy one.

Director Tomas Alfredson makes a great job in bringing to life the cold, lonely world of "Låt Den Rätte Komma In", as he conceived an atmosphere that perfectly represents the feeling of alienation that's present in both kids' lives. With a superb work by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, Alfredson creates a beautiful, poetic film that's emotional and tender without being schmaltzy or childish. The innocence and purity of the bond formed between the kid and the vampire speaks louder than the clichéd teenage angst of other vampire-related love stories. At the core, it's still a horror film, but the horror is subtler, based more on the disturbing images it evokes than on the graphic violence it shows. It's restrained, sober style taking back the focus of the horror to the darkness, to the unseen, leaving the work to the imagination instead of spiting out every move. Alfredson's use of silence is masterful, and coupled with Van Hoytema's beautiful cinematography, result in the haunting atmosphere of a film in which images speak more than words.

Acting in the film is really amazing, with young actors Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson (both 11 years old at the time of filming) delivering remarkable performances in the lead roles. As the fragile Oskar, Kåre Hedebrant is excellent, very natural and believable as the bullied little kid whose life is lonely and miserable until that strange girl appears. With a face full of melancholy and wonder, Kåre is a wonderful Oskar, but if he is wonderful, Lina Leandersson takes it to the next level as Eli, the mysterious vampire girl. Looking wise beyond her years, Lina portrays perfectly a vampire trapped in the body of a 12-year-old kid, with the maturity that gives age and the fragility that gives the discovery of love. Both actors have great chemistry as a couple, which instrumental for the film as in the end it's their character's emotions what drive the film. The rest of the cast is for the most part effective, although the film revolves completely around the two young lead actors. Still, Per Ragnar is good as Håkan, and young Patrik Rydmark is excellent as Oskar's bully, Conny.

A fascinating tale of romance and horror, "Låt Den Rätte Komma In" once again resurrects the myth of the vampire, but by taking away the glamor and taking it back to its roots as a tragic, monstrous curse, it surprisingly humanizes it. Facing a bleak world filled with murderers, drunkards, bullies and broken homes, both kids are not that different in the end, as the fragile 12-year-old boy and the older vampire trapped in a kid's body appear as equals, both being misfits in such environment. And they need each other: Oskar needs the confidence and strength Eli gives him, while she needs the innocence and purity his love offers. As written above, some of the themes the novel handled were eliminated, but still, the essence of John Ajvide Lindqvist's book remains: the dark side of humanity is far more terrible than any monster. Sober and low key, Alfredson's "Låt Den Rätte Komma In" moves in silence and flows at a much slower pace than most modern films of the same type, as it opts for suggestion instead of explanation. This approach takes horror back to where it's scarier: in the imagination.

Filled with a chilling atmosphere and beautiful visual poetry, Tomas Alfredson's "Låt Den Rätte Komma In" is a breath of fresh air for the horror genre that shows that there's more about it than graphic violence and jump scares, as it can also evoke powerful emotions and still be a disturbing thriller. Granted, it may be too slow for some, but personally, I think that its restrained, subtle approach was the best way to properly tell the story without falling in the schmaltzy clichés of similar romance stories. It's respect for realism and extreme care for detail certainly help in this aspect too. "Låt Den Rätte Komma In", or "Let the Right One In", is definitely an original and inventive story that seems to remind us that way before being cool and hip, vampire stories used to be disturbing too.


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