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Låt Den Rätte Komma In (Let The Right One In)

April 16, 2009

I love it when a plan comes together. I’ve said before – too often, probably – that horror movies are an almost constant let-down, because they never seem to get everything right. Good concept, shite execution; great sets, rubbish plot; brilliant cinematography, a script that sucks arse. The horror movie can be so good, but mostly it misses the chance to be great because, dammit, it seems to lose the courage of its own convictions. Why does The Evil Dead succeed? Because it backs itself. Why does The Texas Chainsaw Massacre work? Because it knows what it’s doing is worthy.

So why do so many fail? For lots of reasons (especially if you’re David Goyer), but really it’s only for one…because they’re just not brave enough. Demographics, diminishing returns, box-ticking, yadda yadda, all that. That can all go to hell if the creatives behind the venture had the bollocks, but it doesn’t, and so the end result inevitably does. What we want, like with Tourneur or Raimi or the young Tobe Hooper, is for someone to head out on a limb and just go for it.

What we have with Tomas Alfredson, and his uncomfortably creepy Let The Right One In, is an example of someone who just decided to follow his own course. And it’s a glorious success. Fuck, it might even be a masterpiece.

This is an unwholesome and yet bizarrely touching tale of passion between two 12-year-olds, one a boy (Oskar) who lives with his Mom, the other a vampire, Eli, who moves in next door.

In a freezing cold, blankly functional Stockholm suburb, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson) meet, ironically, on a playground climbing frame. It is an unlovely setting, filled – as we discover – with tortuous poignancy for both. Oskar is denied his childhood through being bullied, Eli is removed from hers because she is undead. But, and it needs to be emphasised, we are not in Stephanie Meyer territory here, nor even a nearly-grown-up Joss Whedon scenario. Let The Right One In is its own thing: dead Eli may be, but the V word is only mentioned once, and that after an hour (“Är du en vampyr?” whispers Oskar, almost apologetically), and there are no fangs on show or stakes or diaphanous robes, no hissing, no Van Helsing and no recoiling from cucifixes.

Eli is kept alive by her companion, Håkan (Per Ragnar), a man forced into the life of a serial killer to feed what we first believe to be his daughter. But it is a relationship we later question. Question darkly, and with grim unwillingness, for there are hints and suggestions here such that you wouldn’t necessarily wish to throw too much light on this…couple. Håkan is a poor murderer (he befriends young men and then attempts to upend them so that he may drain off their blood into a container, ready to deliver to the cursed Eli). His incompetence leads to a fate you would not wish on anyone, executing a step-by-step logical sequence that, in conclusion, plays out as so utterly bizarre and macabre and downright horrible, you’ll wonder how on earth you got there.

Eli is forced, through this scene, to become the provider, the predator. Similarly, Oskar, with a complex but ultimately hopeless parental relationship going on in the background, is out on his own trying to cope with his bullying problem. How they cope with these issues pushes them ever closer, and it is this odd pairing, and the difficulties it both produces and solves that resonate throughout the movie.

At almost every turn there is something to admire. The film takes its time. It takes forever to scrunch around on the snow and ice, moving the actors around like chess pieces. For long periods there is no dialogue at all; what music there is is starkly void and empty, just a piano refrain or the odd plucked string. The action is careful, studied, in many ways almost incidental, at no point is that made clearer than during the extraordinary underwater scene, executed in a gloopy near-silence. There is stuff happening to Oskar here, but it’s despite him, it’s in the background, he can’t interfere or help. Only when a passing character, the unfortunate Ginie, is infected by Eli, do we see the movie crank it up a gear, but it is a moment grimly predicted by the character’s heartbreaking awareness of her situation, and is – for all it’s sudden intensity – a strangely moving moment. The tone is perfect, not just at that point, but throughout. The direction – the camera just seems to wander across to the protagonists – is hypnotic. And the sound, the sound is simply fabulous. Who would think that silence could be so captivating?

And the heart? Where is that thing that not just most horror movies, but most movies, forget to include? The core of the movie, the relationship between Eli and Oskar is deeply unsettling, but it is inescapable. There are nudges and glimpses and indications in here of something genuinely dark and disturbing, and although delicate in his touch, Alfredson does not flinch from it. It helps, if that’s the word, and it’s not, that the two young players are so, so good at what they do. Hedebrant’s Oskar is painfully otherworldly, and if, as I think must have been the intent, the opening scene had not had him reflected so clearly in his bedroom window, you might almost have assumed that he was the cursed creature. But it is, fittingly, Leandersson’s Eli that impresses. She’s so unusual, so alien, so creepy that you just cannot take your eyes off her. Even when you really feel you have to. When the young Richard Burton first appeared on stage at Stratford as Henry V, Kenneth Tynan said that in his eyes he “brought his own cathedral with him.” Look at Leandersson in this; tell me she doesn’t do the same.

“Let the right one in,” sang Morrisey. “Let the old dreams die.” You can wait for years to see the perfect horror movie…

…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 ?

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