Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Review: Let The Right One In (2008)

* * * *

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson

I want to preface this review by suggesting that if you haven’t seen Let The Right One In yet, don’t read any further than this paragraph. I think that the less you know about it going in, the more rewarding it is as a whole. All I knew about it beforehand was that it was about a vampire and that it had been much acclaimed around the world. And that’s all you need to know: it’s a great movie and totally captivating from beginning to end.

The central character is Oskar (Kate Hedebrant), a lonely 12 year old boy. His parents are divorced and have little time for him, preferring not to allow his presence to interfere with their social lives. He’s bullied at school and obsessed with violence, dreaming of enacting revenge on the bullies, and collecting clippings out of newspapers having to do with horrendous crimes. His isolation is near total until new neighbors move into the apartment next door.

He meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a 12 year old girl who isn’t what she seems. She isn’t, strictly speaking, 12 years old, having been stuck at that age for “a very long time.” Nor is she really a girl, though she’s not actually a boy either. The ambiguous nature of Eli’s existence is interesting for the way that it feeds the opposing needs of Oskar, who wants her to be his romantic companion but also wants to have a protector. As a girl, Eli can be his girlfriend (albeit in a platonic and chaste way) and he can take the active role by taking care of her, such as when he lends her some of his mother’s clothes or when he keeps an intruder from killing her as she sleeps. As a boy, Eli can advise Oskar about how to deal with the bullies and come to his rescue if he needs it. The vague state of Eli’s being allows them both to slip in and out of the traditional gender roles of activity and passivity with ease.

The psychosexual aspect of the story is deepened by Eli’s relationship with Hakan (Per Ragnar), who ostensibly poses as her father and kills for her so that she can be fed without having to venture out to claim victims herself. The exact nature of their relationship is never elaborated, though there are some creepy undertones to Hakan’s behavior around Eli and his request that she spend less time with Oskar can, I think, be interpreted as being motivated as much by jealousy as by fear of discovery. How and when they ended up together is never explained, though the more I think about the film the more I wonder if maybe at some point Hakan was just like Oskar and if, beyond the borders of the film, one day Oskar will become like Hakan, a figure who provides for Eli and whose presence offers the cover of normalcy.

The film is based on a novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also adapted the screenplay. It's possible that the book answers some of these questions, though I don't necessarily feel that I'm missing anything in not having those answers - the story is strong even with its little ambiguities. The technical aspects of the film are similarly strong, particularly the cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema, which so beautifully captures the landscape, and the direction by Tomas Alfredson. It can't be easy to coax such rich performances out of child actors, but he does so with Hedebrant and Leandersson. Leandersson, especially, renders a surprisingly nuanced performance that blends childlike qualities with a heavy maturity. The result is transfixing.


Rick Bman said...

This was definitely one of my favorite movies from last year and I am not normally a fan of vampire movies. The movie just told such a great story with really interesting characters and was beautifully filmed.

I haven't read the book yet but I have heard from a few people that it does answer some of the questions that you bring up.

Norma Desmond said...

I was looking forward to this movie for months before finally getting to see it, which is usually a recipe for disappointment, but not in this case. As soon as I finished watching it I added the book to my list of books I plan to read.

Anh Khoi Do said...

I just can't get out my head the feeling that the pace was almost as slow as in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. This means that saying that the film is boring is an understatement in my opinion. However, when you watch it a second time (or think about it again), you have to admit that the film contains a good story mostly because of its ambiguous nature.