Monday, December 08, 2008


Young Lina Leandersson gives a hard-to-shake performance in the exciting new Swedish horror film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN [Låt den rätte komma in, 2008] is a new Swedish horror film of many distinctions, one of them being that it was based on a Swedish horror novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. The writer, whose book has been translated into English, reportedly moonlights or daylights as a stand-up comic and his writing would seem to confirm the theory that every comedian is a closet tragedian.
Directed and edited by Tomas Alfredson, the movie works best if you approach it (as I did) knowing absolutely nothing about it, which makes it seem an effort of conscious destruction just to write about it, so I'm going to do my readers the favor of being elliptical. Suffice to say that it's a film about a childhood relationship between two twelve-year-olds, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and his neighbor Eli (Lina Leandersson), in which the two young actors succeed in giving psychologically rich performances that are so unusual, so refreshing within genre boundaries, that they feel almost immediately iconic. The strangeness immediately evident in their relationship turns out to have a supernatural cause and the film, rather than becoming a pure exercise in horror and shock and revulsion, becomes a tragic essay on the theme of amour fou and how love can make even monsters sympathetic and their most horrible traits forgivable. The curious title shared by the book and film refers to the discretion we should exercise in inviting new people into our lives and is derived from a song by Morrissey:
Let the right one in
Let the old dreams die
Let the wrong ones go
They cannot they cannot they cannot do
What you want them to do

Let the right one in
Let the old dreams die
Let the wrong ones go
They do not they do not they do not see
What you want them to

Let the right one in
Let the old things fade
Put the tricks and schemes (for good) away
I will advise until my mouth dries
I will advise you to

Let the right one slip in slip in slip in
And when at last it does
I'd say you were within your rights to bite
The right one and say, "What kept you so long?"
What kept you so long?

The movie isn't perfect (there's a scene involving CGI cats that goes a bit over the top), but despite one or two missteps, time may well prove it great. It's certainly rare for a horror film to be this emotionally moving and perversely enchanting; it's very likely to at least cross the minds of many audience members that Eli would have been a cool girlfriend to have at this age, despite her problems and the way one's proximity to her would complicate one's adolescence. The scene of Oskar and Eli's second embrace, when she enters his apartment uninvited, is actually heartbreaking in the way it underscores the mutual self-sacrifice each of them is making by reaching out to one another.

Eli (Leandersson) seeks temporary shelter in the bed of her misfit friend Oskar (Käre Hedebrant).

Those who, like me, are feeling alienated by the current direction of horror cinema will find this film reason to hope that the pendulum is finally swinging back to work that's more subtle, captivating and thought-provoking. There are scenes of remarkably subtle, Lewtonian horror (one of which specifically alludes to THE LEOPARD MAN) as well as some graphic moments graced with elements of poetry and, for those with the acuity of vision to grasp them, subliminal glimpses of Eli's real face. Also worthy of praise is the scenic yet cerebral 2.35:1 cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema, which captures nearly every set-up with a bisecting line, an off-kilter visual rhyme of the side-by-side arrangement of the neighbors' two rooms, or some geometric pattern that harkens back to the Rubik's Cube that initiates their contact.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is now in US theatrical release from Magnet Releasing. Don't wait for the US remake -- and yes, I understand those rights have been unimaginatively acquired, so the American branch of the genre is by no means out of the woods yet. I'm hopeful that Lindqvist, Alfredson and Co. will be able to resist the temptation to prepare a sequel, as it's a great pleasure simply to daydream about the stories these characters will likely share in the days, weeks and years following the invigoratingly open-ended closing shot.

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