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October 29, 2008 |

By John Williams | Film | October 29, 2008 |

It’s difficult to convey the experience of watching Let the Right One In with words. It doesn’t traffic in many words itself, for one thing, and those it does use are all Swedish. It would be easier to give a sense of the movie’s tone and impact, which has stayed with me for 72 hours and promises to linger for a while longer, by sitting down to perform a haunting piece for cello, or by standing alone with you, silently, during a snowstorm near an abandoned warehouse.

Let the Right One In is creepier, and more visually beautiful, than anything else you’re likely to see this year. Or next. Directed by Tomas Alfredson and adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his own novel, it could be — and has been — called a horror movie, but it’s also an exceedingly unusual love story.

Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) spends his time in two equally stifling worlds: at school, where he’s a favorite target of bullies, and at home, where he lives with only his mother in an apartment complex that has all the charm of a Politburo headquarters. One night, while stabbing a tree to let off some steam, the pale, skinny Oskar meets the pale, pretty Eli (Lina Leandersson). She, too, is 12 — “kind of,” she says.

Eli has moved into the apartment next door, with a middle-aged man who bears a passing resemblance to Charles Grodin. It seems that he is less Eli’s father than some kind of … keeper. Eli isn’t like the other girls. In fact, as she puts it, she’s not even a girl. She’s a vampire.

Given the long-standing feud between vampires and sunshine, a majority of the film takes place at night. Ice and snow cover the ground, and bare branches reach for the sky. Eli moves through this frigid landscape in short sleeves and bare feet. If she goes too long between feedings, her stomach groans like sputtering pipes and her trusting, childish eyes turn sinister.

The movie is quiet and deliberate by any standard, especially the current one for the genre. Horror fans raised on torture porn hoping for something like the Saw series with more umlauts will be disappointed. There’s plenty of gruesome material on display, but almost none of it is the pop-out variety that sends you flying from your seat. The chills are more in the eerie tradition of The Shining or a vintage episode of “The X-Files”: A man casually assembles a box of materials meant for murder as if he’s packing a lunch for work; Eli’s eyes briefly shine in a darkened room; unlucky teenagers are strung upside down in order to be drained of their blood.

The friendship between the two embattled children and the impossibility of Oskar’s burgeoning love for Eli give the movie a believable emotional core that might normally be missing in a story about the undead. In the very end, the relationship even provides a potent dash of foreshadowed suspense.

An American remake is already in the works — reports vary about who’s attached, but it’s scheduled for release next year. This cinematic laundering is even more depressing than usual. Let the Right One In does not need to be remade. It’s accessible in every way but its language, and if you’ve learned to read that shouldn’t be a barrier. If it gets the full Hollywood treatment, it will likely be a dumber, altogether different movie. If the spirit of this original is somehow kept intact, then why follow so closely on its meticulous heels?

John Williams lives in Brooklyn. He’s a freelance writer. He blogs at A Special Way of Being Afraid.

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Let the Right One In / John Williams

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