Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Creepy, Clever, But With Some Serious Problems, Let The Right One In Generally Works!

The Good: Original idea, Interesting character, Good effects, Interesting conflict
The Bad: Mediocre acting, Poor dubbing, Deathly pacing.
The Basics: Let The Right One In is a clever and original idea, but the execution is more often boring than genuinely creepy.

Just over a month ago now, a good friend of mine died fairly abruptly. He was a real good man and we spent many hours discussing movies and more than doing things outside our contact at the library, we had plans to go out to the movies or do things in the future. His death put an untimely end to many of those plans and I've felt a little guilt about that. One of the plans we had was to watch the movie Let The Right One In. I had heard about Let The Right One In and when Eclipse (click here for my review of that!) premiered, I learned that there was an American remake of the film in the works. I talked to my buddy about it and he asked me to screen the original before we went to see the remake. It took until two weeks after he was dead for the library to get Let The Right One In in. Sadly, while I have no doubt the American remake is more bloody and far less interesting, Let The Right One In is not the ultimate vampire movie I hoped it might be.

Let The Right One In is based upon the Swedish novel by the same name (actually Lat den ratte komma in) by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay. The idea is a pretty clever one: it is the story of a child vampire and her struggle to get blood and stay anonymous in the suburbs of Stockholm. While I have no problem with subtitled films, Let The Right One In on DVD is dubbed . . . poorly and the emphasis on setting and mood often overwhelms the story. This, combined with frequently uncertain acting robs Let The Right One In of any nearness to perfection that the idea could have implied.

Oskar is young, bullied by Conny and Conny's cronies. One night, Eli moves into the apartment next to Oskar and his mother with her caretaker, Hakan. Hakan journeys out to procure blood for Eli, but is scared off by a dog and people interrupting him. Eli, a creepy girl who appears to be twelve like Oskar, is actually much older and she requires blood to survive. At night, Oskar meets with Eli out in the frozen playground and she shows him how to solve his Rubik's cube. As Hakan becomes more reckless in trying to procure blood for Eli, Oskar continues to be beaten up and harassed by Conny.

After Hakan dies, Eli turns to Oskar for help. In exchange, she urges Oskar to stand up to his bullies and strike back. Oskar does, shortly after he and Eli become closer, and this leads Conny's brother to come defend his younger bother and hurt Oskar.

Let The Right One In is tough to write about in some ways because it has a very simple plot and is more obsessed with mood and setting than telling much of a story. The idea of a child vampire is a clever one and her befriending Oskar is interesting and well-executed. Unfortunately, much of the rest of the movie is just filler around such a flimsy premise. Indeed, I was surprised Let The Right One In was based upon a novel because of how little plot and dialogue the film contained. Much of the movie is quiet - no soundtrack even - with static shots and the film is very monochromatic.

Let The Right One In does not use an excessive color palate or sense of movement. Instead, it is packed with white, blank walls, pale people and snow. There is not a lot that happens and when it does, it is frequently done in shadow and it is understated. For sure, I tend to like the European willingness to illustrate sensuality over violence, but in Let The Right One In the violence is not overly explicit and the personal relationships develop very slowly. But what violence there is makes to to screen with a very classy implied execution, as opposed to having the focus. So, there are shots with throats being slit or ripped out by teeth where the viewer sees nothing up close, but Eli turns and faces the camera, lips drenched in blood. Similarly, Hakan's attempt to remain anonymous when he is captured is a grizzly use of acid on himself and the viewer is not forced to watch while he does that, though we do see the effects later on.

What the film slowly develops is a relationship between Oskar and Eli wherein the two come to be best friends and then romantically entangled. Those who appreciate films with young love will enjoy the slow sensuality of the twelve year-olds moving toward caring for one another. Oskar teaching Eli morse code so they can tap messages to one another is sweet and the film works as a quiet character study in that way.

Unfortunately, the film is packed with dangling elements that do not serve the main plot, nor do they flesh out the frozen suburb of Stockholm in any meaningful way. I like movies that illustrate a strong sense of time and place, but that time and place has to be interesting. The cat guy and Lacke, who talks politics with friends at a local cafe, help make the place seem more populated, but the movie is so starkly focused on Oskar, Eli and Oskar's bullies that this fleshing out of the town is more distracting than enlightening.

This leads us to the acting. Child actors are a tough nut to crack, but some are just stiff. One wants to have the awkward acting in Let The Right One In be blamed on a cultural difference between the Swedes and the Americans, but that's just not the case. How do I know? Because director Thomas Alfredson gets it right in some places, but fails to get wonderful performances the rest of the time. So, for example, I steeled myself for pretty brutal bullying which might justify Oskar truly needing to stand up to them. Conny orders his friends to shove Oskar around, but the worst thing they do for the bulk of the movie is stuff Oskar's pants into a urinal. While this is surely cruel and Oskar eventually gets sliced on his cheek by one of the thugs, Let The Right One In does not illustrate a severe amount of bullying that makes the film make sense. Oskar quietly accepts much of the bullying and Eli encourages him to stand up to him. Oskar does, but that escalates things with Jimmy. My point here is that the bullying is quiet and Oskar doesn't portray a sense of anger very well at all. In fact, the opening lines of dialogue in the movie have Oskar practicing menacing his bullies, but the tone is unemotive and droll.

By contrast, what violence the movie does possess happens quickly. Eli moves quickly, running up the side of buildings, tearing at people, and the like. When she feeds, she moves with speed. Even her one attempt to illustrate what happens to vampires when they do not have an invitation to enter - a disturbing bleeding from every orifice - happens with more speed and emotion than anything that happens between Oskar and Eli.

While Eli, played by Lina Leandersson, is appropriately creepy and, at times, passionate, Kare Hedebrant's Oskar never quite pops the same way. Hedebrant does not illustrate an emotive range as Oskar and his performance is stiff and quiet. Given that half the film hinges upon his performances - and the fact that the dubbed voice is drastically more feminine than most, including the voice that replaces Landersson's - Hedebrant makes Let The Right One In painfully boring at times.

On DVD, Let The Right One In has a couple of deleted scenes and previews for other Swedish horror films that are jumping the Atlantic. There is also a behind-the-scenes featurette which is informative and educational, focusing mostly on how the movie was made and the differences between the book and the movie.

Unlike a subtle, moody horror film like Alien which mixes the fright with social commentary, witty dialogue and enough characters to keep the movie moving, Let The Right One In makes enough social commentary, but is hampered by stiff acting and dialogue which is stiff, irrelevant and/or stiffly presented. I was ready to love the film and I think it is a delightfully original take on the vampire mythos, but it does not pop the way I was hoping it might. Still, it is worth a viewing and fans of vampire movies are likely to enjoy the originality of it. But as far as movies overall go, there is not enough for one who is not a genre fan to fall in love with it.

For other horror movies or films with foreign settings, please check out my reviews of:
Shutter Island
Memoirs Of A Geisha


For other movie reviews, please check out my index page for an organized listing!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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