Thursday, March 19, 2009

“’Scream! Squeal!’ Those were the first words I heard you say.”

Everyone I know who has seen the Swedish film Let the Right One In (aka Låt den rätte komma in) has seen it multiple times. When it first came out in theaters, no less than four people I know went back for a second viewing almost immediately after the first. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to see that it was going to be released on DVD last Tuesday. I immediately threw it at the top of my Netflix queue, and got to experience Let the Right One In shortly thereafter.

Just to come straight out with it, does Let the Right One In live up to the uniformly positive reviews? Is it so good that it warrants going back to the theater the next weekend to watch it again? Yes. I think it is fair to say that Let the Right One is a modern masterpiece. It is the kind of movie that begs repeated viewing, not because it is too dense or confusing that multiple viewings are required to appreciate it, but simply because it is so good that you'll inevitably just want to watch it again.

Let the Right One In chronicles the burgeoning relationship between Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson). Oskar is a lonely and neglected 12 year old boy; the only attention he receives is in the form of bullying at the hands of a gang of classmates led by the cruel Conny. Eli is Oskar's enigmatic new neighbor, a 12 year old girl who is kept isolated in her apartment, appearing sporadically in the housing project's courtyard at night, often underdressed and barefoot in the snow. The movie depicts the quotidian horror of being the strange kid growing up, the day-to-day problems, both emotional and logistical, of being a preteen vampire girl, and the bond that grows between these two young isolated children.

Tomas Alfredson's direction is characterized by a near clinical level of precision. Every shot, every edit, lighting, and sound are all carefully and thoughtfully chosen and expertly executed. It is apparent that everything in Let the Right One In has large amounts of thought behind it. This over controlled, over thought style of filmmaking can (and often does) choke all the life out of a movie, but thankfully the excellent and naturalistic performances of all the actors, and especially the lead child actors, breath more than enough life into the movie. The excellent acting and writing give Alfredson more than enough leeway to carefully construct his film exactly the way he wants it, down to the tiniest detail.

Ultimately, one of Let the Right One In's greatest strength is its ability to be so many things all at once. While most films that try to span genres and blend tones end up being messy failures, Let the Right One In succeeds so greatly in large part because it isn't trying to be everything at once. By simply being what it is, by simply telling the story that it wants to tell, Let the Right One In manages to be that perfect blend of tones, themes, and genres without having to try. It is a love story, a coming of age story, a tense thriller, a suspenseful horror movie, and at times a pitch black comedy all at once, and succeeds at doing all these things extremely well.

There are so many things that can be said about Let the Right One In. So many scenes are packed with subtly and ambiguity that repeated viewings and post-movie discussions will inevitably uncover more and more layers to characters' internal and external worlds. Everything in the movie is so downplayed and implied to such great effect, that any time anything is presented explicitly it is jarring, heartbreaking, and/or horrifying.

I would love to say more, but for the sake of spoilers, I won't. I will say this, see Let the Right One In, and see it multiple times.

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