Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Frank Review of "Let the Right One In" (2008)

The Short Version? Prepubescent outcast boy falls for vampire.
What Is It? Foreign Horror Romance
Who's In It? I See Swedish People.
Should I See It? Yes.

I liked the Swedish film "Låt Den Rätte Komma In," possibly for its twists on genre. In truth, I can't figure out if its that or because, if stripped of its more Euro-centric sensibilities, it's such a slave to time-tested, audience pleasing formula. Something of a mash-up, really. Imagine if John Hughes had become fixated on The Hunger, and you've got a pretty good idea of what to expect. It's the bittersweet coming-of-age tale of a bullied lad named Oskar who, had the film been made in its early 80's period setting, might have maybe been played by Anthony Michael Hall. Ally Sheedy could have been the vampire Eli, who moves into Oskar's apartments and accumulates a body count with her aide, Håkan. As Eli and Oskar grow closer, the boy's torments worsen, and Håkan begins causing problems of his own.

Broken down, it's a rather simple, predictable tale, but the execution is more than capable of selling it to the art house crowd. Those same hipsters are howling over a proposed remake next year by Cloverfield's Matt Reeves, though as I've noted, there's nothing inherently wrong with embracing the mainstream aspects of the story. In fact, Reeves has stated the intention of returning to the bestselling source novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, which involved darker elements barely hinted at in the version directed by Tomas Alfredson. Then again, the pedophilia angle would be lost if the leads were recast as teenagers in a PG-13 debacle, so it'll probably end up as a goddamned "Twilight" cash-in.

Returning to the film actually being reviewed, Låt Den Rätte Komma In has a wonderfully deliberate pace, and some visuals that are bound to stick with you. There is a restrained use of CGI and practical effects that pay off enormously in small doses, a lesson Hollywood is in desperate need of. Amidst the occasional gore and austere setting, there is also a genuine sweetness and some cutting dark humor. There's intriguing ambiguity at play as well, some of it the viewer can catch, with others requiring the perspective of the original novel. Regardless, there's subtext that upends the sometimes-too-conventional interests of the director's vision of the material that might just send you deeper into the story after the credits roll. If nothing else, the film is a success in providing enough investment for the audience to want to explore further.

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