Monday, December 15, 2008

Love Bites: Let the Right One In

As someone who appreciated the graphic novel roots of "30 Days of Night" from last year, I'm doubly impressed by the subtle brilliance of Tomas Alfredson's "Let the Right One In". While David Slade's vampire interpretation was full of fast and brutal limb-tearing ferocity, Alfredson works at the other end of the spectrum, giving the genre a refreshing spin. Alfredson- clearly a talent to watch- infuses such simple honesty into each and every frame of his unique vision that, by the time the film's magical final image rolls around, I didn't want it to stop. Alas, that's the beauty of crafting such a well balanced film.

Descriptions of "Let the Right One In" could encompass so many genres- horror film, suburban teen angst (albeit in a very cold, nontraditional setting), awkward adolescent love story, coming-of-age melodrama... everything fits and evokes a specific reaction. So many ideas and emotions are crammed into the film that choosing any one of these would be sufficient. Twelve year old Oskar (Kara Hedebrandt) is alienated, bullied relentlessly at school and spends his free time along at night stabbing trees with his knife as vengeful thoughts rattle around in his head. In the cramped, non descript apartment housing where he lives, a new neighbor moves in overnight. Soon, Oskar meets Eli (Lina Leannderson). With long black hair that covers her pale white face, carrying an odd odor and seemingly ambivalent towards the mounds of snow that pile up around her as she wanders around barefoot, the two form a relationship that teeters on the brink of first love. But, it's not long after that we (and eventually Oskar) realize that Eli is hiding a dark secret. This brief description makes "Let the Right One In" sound ordinary, I know. What director Alfredson does with this mundane idea, though, is a wonder to behold. Through carefully modulated performances by both young actors and expertly framed compositions that draw out an impending sense of violence, "Let the Right One In" is a masterpiece of economical filmmaking. Tension and effect are choreographed in precise camera placement, such as the above shot for one scene in a bathroom which tells us everything and nothing. Still, the real hook of "Let the Right One In" resides in the central relationship between Oskar and Eli. Take out some of the bloodshed, and you've got the framework for a perfectly realized modern day Grimm fairy tale. Instead, we get a genuine adult treat that ranks as one of the year's most fantastic experiences.

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