With a chilly Scandinavian breeze blowing across the screen, and a haunting cinematic foreshadowing rap-rap-rapping at our brain, we see a pale young boy watching from his window as two mysterious figures, an older man and a young girl about the boy's own age, exit a cab and enter his apartment building late at night. We find out later, though it comes as no surprise since the film is billed as such, that the young girl is a creature who subsists on human blood (she refuses the moniker vampire) and the older man is her father/caretaker, doomed with the dubious task of procuring "food" for his hungry daughter. This is the start of a surprisingly simple yet overtly complex little film that both charms and thrills, lulls and titillates, snugs and bugs throughout.
Layered with the frosty moodiness one might expect from the cinematic northern environs of Sweden - not far from the Danish homeland of Dreyer and his very own melancholy Vampyr - Thomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In, the story of a twelve year old boy who is bullied at school and who is befriended by the mysterious new dark-haired neighbor girl. Almost immediately the boy falls for this strange girl who only comes out in the dark of night, and finds in her what little happiness his dank life appears to know. It is in this girl, who is "more or less" twelve and for that matter possibly not even be a girl at all (in the book the character is said to be neither boy nor girl, genderless, a self-described "nothing" - something only alluded to in the film itself) that he finds, in essence, like the wizard was to the lion, his courage. And suddenly this sullen child finds in this alluring enigma of tween desire, a compatriot, a friend, a lover, albeit chastely so, and, in the end, a champion.
Alfredson's film rolls along at the most leisurely pace, yet manages to keep you on the very edge of your seat with his subtly stark photography and quick, thunderous flashes of bloody revelry, vanishing as quickly as they appear. Yet no matter how cool and crisp Alfredson's cinematography and editing are, it is the two young first-time actors (Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar, the bullied little boy with a barely hidden violent lust and Lina Leandersson as Eli, the youthful bloodlusting beast in sheep's clothing) that hammer the final nail into the coffin, so to speak, and through their childlike exuberance (Oskar flashes his knife with the most innocently sinister of smirks upon his face and Eli's vicious, almost perversely sexual, attacks on her fellow townspeople is quite the disturbing little treat) make the film both the delight and the terror that it is.
Now, to bring up the inevitable comparison, concurrent with the American release of this diminutive, almost completely overlooked and overshadowed Swedish vampire film, there is the ultra generic young adult book series turned ultra generic Hollywood teen blockbuster Twilight and everyone is going all swooney over themselves at the mere mention of it. It poses itself as the new it thing for tweens and teens (and the occasional like-minded adult who has nothing better to do than inexplicably fawn over something meant for someone half their age) and in doing so, it makes one think that something, somewhere, has gone utterly and completely madhouse bonkers. Perhaps, as I suggested last year concerning the rapturously stoic 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and the half-brained mockingbird fallacy Juno, for every person who buys a ticket for Twilight they should be made to sit through its very antithesis, Let the Right One In instead. To finish with a pun of sorts, and perhaps channel Gene Shalit from whatever floor of the Rockefeller Center he is currently canoodling one, perhaps they too, should let the right one in. [12/07/08]