There is something to be said for taking risks. Without great risk, there can be no great reward. Sometimes that risk leads you to something average like “Keeping Up with the Steins”; other times, it leads you to brilliance like “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Occasionally, you will get something less than desirable like “Drillbit Taylor.”
In the case of the 2008 film “Let the Right One In,” the risk (who would have ever predicted a child-centric Swedish vampire film would be one of the year’s best?) absolutely pays off. Tomorrow’s screening of the film at Isla Vista Theater is not to be missed.
But then again, “Let the Right One In” is like no vampire movie I have seen before. It is remarkably smarter, scarier and more nuanced. It doesn’t feel like a thriller: It feels like literature.
The film, which details the bizarre misadventures of a pair of preteen star-crossed lovers – one of whom is an androgynous vampire – is phenomenal in almost every regard. The details of young Oskar’s (Kare Hedebrant) life are spot-on. Stuck in that incredibly painful period of post-childhood, pre-adolescence, Oskar is aware of girls, but has no idea how to contend with them. He is small for his age, and is brutalized by other boys as a result. He’s terribly alone, and collects news clips of violent crimes as a way of letting out his rage. One day, a strange new girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) appears on the playground. Eli and Oskar become fast friends, and things begin to look up for Oskar. Eli even (innocently) spends the night on occasion.
Meanwhile, the spectator is privy to a couple things that Oskar doesn’t know. As it happens, Eli’s caretaker is a serial killer of the most brutal order, collecting the blood of his victims into a bucket. Soon, Oskar comes to realize that his new playmate is a bit more than she first seemed. After a tragedy of shocking violence, Eli is left to fend for herself, trying desperately to stave off her urge to drink fresh blood, while also forming a delicate new bond with Oskar.
Everything about “Let the Right One In” is carefully considered and thought through. Where a more traditional horror film might have opted for endless ultra-violence, or else cut everything out in favor of a kid-friendly rating, director Tomas Alfredson steers the line right down the middle. When the violence comes, it is certainly brutal and horrific, but it is never dwelt upon. We are left to question what we just saw, rather than examine the kidneys or other violently ruptured organs on display.
There is also a great stillness to the film. The first half of the film mimics Oskar’s static stage, that stuck-in-between phase, never moving, with no hope for growth. But as things begin to change, it becomes apparent that the stillness is ultimately reserved not for Oskar but rather for Eli. Oskar will grow up, change and become a man. Eli is forever stuck with a much more burdensome fate.
And then there is the quiet, understated ending. Some will find it haunting; others will find it whimsical. I went back and forth more than a few times myself. No two people will have the same understanding.
“Let the Right One In” screens Friday at 7 and 10 p.m. (and Monday at 10 p.m.) as part of the Magic Lantern film series. I cannot imagine a better investment of $4.