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LET THE RIGHT ONE IN  - DVD review

by Catherine Karp


So frequently Let the Right One In is referred to as the "Swedish Twilight." The books/movies have two major things in common: (1) the main characters come from broken homes, and (2) young vampire/human relationships are explored. Other than that, these are two entirely different styles of stories.


I watched Let the Right One In on DVD last night after having just finished reading John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel that it's based upon (Ajvide Lindqvist also wrote the screenplay, which certainly shows in the movie's loving treatment of the book). Odd as it may sound, I'd say the story has more in common with Disney movies such as Mary Poppins and Pete's Dragon or even the 1956 French short film The Red Balloon, in which children with lonely, bleak, ignored, and/or abused lives become spiritually lifted by a fantasy character. Granted, Let the Right One In's fantasy character drinks blood (and she's certainly no "vegetarian vampire"), but the empowerment she bestows upon her human child counterpart is tender, heartfelt, and, surprisingly rooted in innocent love.


The movie (unlike the novel) is primarily seen through the eyes of twelve-year-old Oskar, a quiet boy who's mercilessly bullied at his suburban school.
let the right one in
He lives with his mother in a sterile apartment complex that looks like it's straight out of Communist Russia (which, according to the film's director in a bonus feature, is how suburban Sweden looked during the movie's early-eighties setting). Oskar takes pleasure in collecting newspaper clippings of brutal murders, and in his early scenes, one can almost feel a Columbine-style tragedy building up in his future. Because he's just twelve and still has one foot planted in childhood, there's hope that someone will come along and offer him love and understanding that may potentially lead him along a better path.


For better or worse, that someone who arrives is Eli, a vampire trapped in the body of a twelve-year-old girl with ties to a local serial killer. Despite Eli's dark side, one has to feel sorry for a person stuck at the awkward age of twelve, but her true allure is her connection to Oskar.


As portrayed by the wonderful Lina Leandersson, she's both a lonely child herself and a wise adult who teaches Oskar that it's time to stand up for himself. Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar is equally amazing--his face wordlessly captures the quiet pain of a tormented soul, and he conveys sweet befuddlement when interacting with his peculiar new friend. Even when he finally figures out what Eli is, there's nothing showy or false about his reactions. The real monsters in his world are human beings, so it makes sense that he'll continue to be drawn to a person who makes him feel ten feet tall.


The child actors are newcomers, and their naturalness is what particularly makes the film so realistic and believable. There's something far more intriguing about horror when it's entwined with everyday normalcy. The scenery is simple; the music haunting. Even non-vampire fans should be able to buy the supernatural concepts because they're so intricately connected to the powerful scenes of surviving the cruelty of childhood. Unlike many twenty-first-century novels and movies, Let the Right One In embraces vampire lore and has fun with it without giving long lists of what vampires can and can't do. Eli's challenges as a vampire in modern society make her just as vulnerable as Oskar at times.
let the right one in eli


Because I've read the book, I have a few adaptation criticisms. A brief full-frontal nudity shot undoubtedly leaves some viewers asking, "What did I just see and why did I need to see it?" The novel's plot point that relates to the surprising shot is never fully explained. Also, the fate of a bitten man who isn't properly disposed of is never shown. I have to wonder if people unfamiliar with the novel will ponder what eventually happens to him.


One major warning for viewers of the American DVD: a dubbed version of the film plays by default. No matter how intimidated you feel about reading dialogue, go into your menu and switch to the Swedish audio with subtitles. I accidentally started watching the dubbed version first, and I immediately had flashbacks to watching Pippi Longstocking on TV as a kid. Dubbing seemed unnatural even then when I didn't understand what it was, but it's far worse as an adult when I know there are award-winning performances buried beneath the English voice overs.


The special features include deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette (short, but interesting, although I would have enjoyed seeing interviews with the kids), and some photos from the film.


Let the Right One In is far different than everything you've probably ever seen. It's a unique coming-of-age/horror/romantic masterpiece that somehow manages to exist between the realms of The Red Balloon and Stephen King's Carrie. It's hard to forget, and I highly recommend it.

 
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