24 June, 2009

Låt den rätte komma in (Let The Right One In) (2008)

‘Will you be my girlfriend?’
‘Oskar, I’m not a girl.’

Regular readers will hopefully forgive this review's inclusion - Tomas Alfredson's Låt den rätte komma in (Let The Right One In) (2008) has not yet made the nominations for this year's European Film Awards but, if it does not, something is going very wrong somewhere. You heard it here first - we have a winner. :-)

Vampires – they just won’t stay dead, will they? Please forgive the clumsy segue, and allow me to tell you why Tomas Alfredson’s film (which lifted the Golden Raven at this year’s BIFFF) is perhaps the finest ever made about the undead.

The last really scary vamp flick was David Slade’s excellent 30 Days Of Night (2007). But, whereas that was based on the high-concept, comic-book notion of an Alaskan town that’s plunged into darkness for 30 days every year, and is therefore the ideal ‘holiday’ destination for feral, flight-of-foot bloodsuckers, Alfredson’s film (scripted by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his own novel), as with all the very best horror, is set entirely in the world of the prosaic.

Specifically, small-town Sweden – the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg, in 1982, where we find Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a bright, sensitive but overlooked and bullied boy, whose teenage friendship with his beautiful but peculiar 12-year-old next-door neighbour Eli (Lina Leandersson) dovetails into love. Trouble is, we know that something is very wrong with Eli – as Oskar is set to discover. There’s no explaining it, it is what it is – Eli is a creature of the night, who needs blood to live.

And it is this matter-of-fact approach that truly sets the film apart from its kin. With the possible exception of George A. Romero’s Martin (1978), vampire mythos doesn’t tend to go into details about how difficult it would actually be to keep up a facade of normality while being forced to drink from the living – when we first join Eli (truly, a superb, heartrending performance from Leandersson that combines pathos, even innocence with shocking savagery), she is being cared for by an older, unsavory middle-age man named Håkan (Per Ragnar). It’s doubtful if he’s her father – her familiar, maybe?

Whatever the case, he takes care of her blood supply, killing people at random and draining their life essence. But his capture and suicide results in Eli having to fend for herself, as, all the while, she grows closer to Oscar. And, when you’re being badly bullied, it really helps to have a friend who’s a vampire…

Alfredson’s film can of course be properly described as horror but, what makes it an absolute marvel is the fact that, for the first time, the two long-recounted aspects of vampirism (the tragedy and terror) are seamlessly blended, while the traditional vampire mythos is both respected and subverted. We never know whether a crucifix will be effective, Eli, while unable to come out in daylight, is not staked through the heart, but she must be invited into a home (hence the film’s title) or else, as we discover in one truly shocking sequence. And, as is demonstrated in an awe-inspiring coup de cinema, she is clearly a supernatural being, able to scale a multi-storey hospital in seconds.

And the tender love story at the narrative’s core, a precise observation of teenage amour that’s complicated by factors beyond belief, is what will also make this a film for the ages.

Scary, sad, breathtaking.

PS. Christ, this news just in. Guess what, there’s going to be a US remake. FFS, just don’t, capisce?

Awards: Click here for details.


115 mins. In Swedish.

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