Thursday, December 4, 2008

Let the Right One In **1/2

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson
Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Karin Bergquist, Patrik Rydmark

"Are you a vampire?" asks 12 year old Oskar (Hedebrant) to his friend Eli (Leandersson).
"I feed off blood" she answers. Not so much an evasion, this response sets the mood for Tomas Alfredson's unique coming of age story, which happens to include vampires, but isn't a "vampire movie".
Set in 1980's Sweden, the opening scene has Oskar staring out his window, touching his reflection on the glass expecting that someday it's gonna touch him back. His parents have recently separated and he's the target for bullies in his school.
He plays alone in his building's playground where he kills trees while uttering lines from "Deliverance".
One snowy night he meets Eli, who has just moved into his building. She smells weird and only comes out as night, but Oskar still likes her enough to ask her to "go steady".
A creepy valentine to first love if there ever was one, "Let the Right One In" observes the way in which we're drawn up to others by what we have in common with them.
For both Oskar and Eli it's their loneliness that brings them together, Eli is restricted by her species' limitations and by her fear that she will want to have her friends for dinner.
As a love story, the film achieves some absolutely moving moments, especially because the vampire take can be interpreted in a million different ways as a metaphor for acceptance (it's not by coincidence that most of the film you actually wonder if Eli is a boy or a girl, not that it makes much of a difference in the end) and the mature performances by both leads make for an engaging, if abit distrubing experience.
But as a coming of age story, Alfredson debates on whether the nature of the love he seeks within his cahracters is enough salvation for them to fight their inner nature.
Eli expresses at one point that while she needs to kill, Oskar's thirst for revenge is avoidable and somehow unnatural.
But is it? Society has brought us up to solve everything using extremes which usually include violence. Alfredson might've tried to explore the nature of violence in spite of danger, but instead of using this vehicle as a more optimistic opportunity he thrusts both points of view and forces us to choose.
When Oskar finally confronts his bully, are we really supposed to cheer because he threatens to strike back with a pipe? Or are we supposed to believe that it is love which has made him "brave"?
Avoiding vampiric staples like overt sexualization and lust, Alfredson is at his best when he grasps the moment between childhood and adolescence (this tween fantasia does not include Jonathan Lipnicki); using Hoyte Van Hoytema's chilling cinematography, it's always what we can't see what becomes more haunting.
But the director has forgotten that even the undead are hormonal and most of the decisions taken by his characters stay at a more cerebral level and up to the intellectualization of those watching.

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