Hot on the heels of Catherine Hardwicke’s slick, teen-friendly vampire flick Twilight comes Let the Right One In, a subtle, subversive take on the genre from Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson that aptly illustrates the vast artistic gulf between (much of) American and world cinema. (Yes, a U.S. remake is already in the works.)
Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a shy, fair-haired 12-year-old who lives with his divorced mother in a modest apartment complex in suburban Stockholm. A loner with a Rubik’s Cube and an odd penchant for scrapbooking, Oskar spends his evenings wandering around the complex’s snow-covered outdoor play area where he dreams of enacting revenge on the school bully. One night, seemingly out of nowhere, the gaunt, raven-haired Eli (Lina Leandersson) appears. The pair immediately strikes up a peculiar bond when Eli reveals that she’s also 12, “more or less,” and his new next-door neighbor to boot.
Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s horror novel (which was in turn inspired the Morrissey song “Let the Right One In”), Alfredson’s restrained, often poetic take on the genre generates unexpected empathy for its troubled characters. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s spare, meticulously designed cinematography is just as genre-defying, lending the film a chilly vibe — think Gus Van Sant’s artier efforts spiked with Roman Polanski’s sinister leanings.
The excellent Hedebrant and Leandersson (whose big, expressive eyes go a long way in humanizing a character who chomps on her victims’ necks to survive) seem to reveal in the darkly perverse material. “Will you be my girlfriend?” Oskar asks Eli long after her true nature is obvious. The curious thing is that the question seems completely natural — a testament to the pair’s rich, convincing performances and the film’s hypnotic, strangely romantic effect. Grade: A-
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN opens March 6. Check out theaters and show times, see the film's trailer and find nearby bars and restaurants here.