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My Blood-Thirsty Valentine

MOVIE REVIEW
Let the Right One In (2008)

3
Magnet Releasing

Leave it to the Swedes to revive the now predictable conventions of the vampire genre with their unique brand of existential depth and stark aestheticism. To say that “Let the Right One In” is a modern horror classic may be true but understates the magnitude of its success as an unflinching take on the sometimes harrowing rites of passage of adolescence and a touching tale of first love. 

Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) – translucently pale and achingly vulnerable – is bullied at school and shuttles between the houses of his divorced parents. One night while Oskar practices his best “you talkin’ to me?” tough-guy routine in his bedroom, a mysterious girl moves in next door with her father. Before long, Oskar and Eli (Lina Leandersson), also 12, form a cautious friendship despite the fact that Eli has strange habits: She wanders around by herself at night, seems impervious to the bitter cold, and her arrival coincides with a series of bizarre murders. The two increasingly depend on each other, as Eli’s tastes begin to draw the attention of the neighbors and Oskar’s bullies become more vicious.

Director Tomas Alfredson triumphs in capturing the local color of the Swedish suburban working-class in 1982. Unlike the baroque settings of most vampire tales, Mr. Alfredson juxtaposes decaying industrial buildings against vast expanses of snow, giving them an austere, sculptural quality. Although there’s plenty of blood and some gore, “Let the Right One In” works best when it’s exploring the first stirrings of romance and showing pre-teen sexuality in a way that is tender instead of creepy and exploitative.

Much of the film’s success is owed to the amazing performances of the young leads: a gentle Mr. Hedebrant as Oskar and the impossibly wide-eyed and commanding Ms. Leandersson as Eli. Their chemistry believably recreates the life-or-death intensity of adolescent friendships when absolute loyalty means more than anything else. For Oskar, Eli represents his fantasy of being powerful and strong as well as the fear that childhood (and its traumas) may never be completely overcome. “Let the Right One In” derives its title from the belief that a vampire must be invited into one’s home before entering. In their loneliness, Oskar and Eli also have to decide if they can trust each other. Hopefully, audiences will give this sincere, imaginative gem all the attention it deserves.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN

Opens on Oct. 24 in Manhattan.

Directed by Tomas Alfredson; written (in Swedish, with English subtitles) by John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on his novel of the same name; director of photography, Hoyte van Hoytema; edited by Dino Jonsater and Mr. Alfredson; music by Johan Soderqvist; production designer, Eva Noren; produced by John Nordling and Carl Molinder; released by Magnet Releasing. Running time: 1 hour 54 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Kare Hedebrant (Oskar), Lina Leandersson (Eli), Per Ragnar (Hakan), Henrik Dahl (Erik), Karin Bergquist (Yvonne) and Peter Carlberg (Lacke).

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