The vampire movie has been pretty much done to "death" by this point, right? Even the good vampire flicks are sort of treading over familiar ground, yes? Longtime fans of the undead bloodsuckers have more or less accepted that the sub-genre has become a fairly anemic wasteland, true? Normally I'd have to reluctantly agree with those assertions, but fortunately I caught a really excellent Swedish film this morning called Let the Right One In. Not only does this fantastic little import add a lot of new color to the "vampire flick," but it also turns out to be one of the strangest, stickiest, and (yes) sweetest horror movies I've seen in ten years.
Oskar is a lonely 12-year-old Swedish kid who gets picked on by bullies at school, but when a strange new girl moves in to the apartment next door, the pre-teens strike up a warm little friendship. Ah, there's one big problem though: Newcomer Eli (pronounced Ellie) only looks like a 12-year-old girl, when in fact she's a vampire of indeterminate age. Eli lives with what horror fans know as a "familiar," a guy who will go out and get his charge some plasma when it's needed -- which of course is pretty often. Eli does all she can to keep her vampirism a secret from her new boyfriend, but the closer they get -- the stickier things become. (And while there's just a bit more to the plot, I'm ending my synopsis right there. Wouldn't want to chance spoiling anything.)
Adapted for the screen (from his own award-winning novel) by John Lindqvist, Let the Right One In is not only a truly excellent horror movie, but it's also a bizarrely touching and personal little movie. It's clear that Lindqvist and director Tomas Alfredson are using vampirism as an accessible metaphor for the myriad problems that face today's teens -- but the movie also feels a lot like a smart horror flick combined with a slice of one of John Hughes' better movies. Whether the film is focusing on the carnage, the puppy-love romance, or a few side-stories with the local townsfolk, Alfredson presents the movie with an appreciable sense of humor, confidence, and sincerity. And while I was initially a bit skeptical about the flick's 114-minute running time, once it had ended I found myself wishing it had been just a little bit longer. Surely that's the sign of a successful movie.
Handsomely shot, very well-paced, and packed with a handful of gruesome surprises for the horror freaks, Let the Right One In is one of those genre imports that gets discovered at film festivals and goes on to live very popular lives on the video store shelves. The lead kids (Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson) are nothing short of flawless, which is especially impressive in a fairly "mature" horror movie like this one, and their chemistry allows a potentially outlandish premise to feel as real and personal as, well, a teenage romance that DOESN'T involve ravenous vampires and horrific murders. Suffice to say that Let the Right One In is a pretty unique beast, and it's a flick that would NEVER arrive via the Hollywood studio system, seeing as how it deals with hardcore gore, pre-teen sexuality, and some rather nasty kid-on-kid violence. And yet, for a movie that has a lot of dicey components, it sure comes off as a really sweet story. That's not just good filmmaking; that's real intelligence behind the camera.
Magnet Releasing (aka Magnolia Pictures) snatched the movie up right quick, because they have pretty fantastic taste in indie and imported genre fare, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit to see a studio come along and slap together some sort of remake -- so please be sure to keep an eyeball out for this one, horror fans. Let the Right One In is very smart, very sweet, very sick, and very special indeed.