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12.10.08

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Phaedra

Photograph by Magnet Releasing
THE HUNGER: Lina Leandersson plays an unlikely vamp in 'Let the Right One In.'

Blood and Snow

Swedish vampires ring new changes on old genre in 'Let the Right One In'

By Richard von Busack


THE DELICATE and intelligent Swedish movie Let the Right One In triumphs over Twilight's gooshy gothery. Director Tomas Alfredson restages some of the favorite myths of the vampires in bold ways. Blink and you'll miss an inspired bit from Dracula staged in the extreme background of the frame, along a hospital wall. There are also spectacular examples of what happens to blood-suckers when they aren't invited in to your home properly, or when they're exposed to sunlight. But we're prepared for the supernatural by some 50 minutes of completely explicable behavior. The word "vampire" isn't uttered until about 80 minutes into the film. It takes place in Stockholm at its darkest, snowiest and dingiest, during the dowdy end of the 1970s or early '80s. One supposes that Alfredson, born in 1965, would have been an adolescent during this era and that he wanted to re-create the mood of his youth. It's not a movie that struts its nostalgia; a kitchen radio murmurs about Brezhnev, and there's a Clash poster on a wall. Naturally, the film does without cell phones and computers, which have both proven so fatal to the mood of the modern mystery. The 12-year-old protagonist, Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), is a runt: a slim kid with a blond haircut like the Dutch Boy on the paint can. He's rosy-lipped and milk-pale, and the bullies can't get enough of him. Since he has a pug nose, they call him "pig" when they slap him around or whip him with switches from a tree. Oskar is on the verge of some terrible retribution; he collects knives and has been practicing fighter's moves in his room. He also has a scrapbook about the bloody murders going on a few subway stops down the line. One day he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), who is perched on the jungle gym, and his life starts to change. What we know is that she's the accomplice—perhaps the daughter—of the serial killer, Hakan (Per Ragnar). The attacks aren't smooth; Hakan is an old man, and he has to chloroform his quarries before hanging them upside down and draining them into a plastic bucket. Whether it's exhaustion or remorse, he's wearing down. And it's time for Eli to start bringing home the bacon. There's enough vacuum in Oskar's life that this strange creature can fill it. She's quite gentle to him, and at first her only comment about her supernaturalism is "I'm not a girl." She's small too, but she has green hunter's eyes, slightly larger than they ought to be.

Alfredson counterpoints this moodiness with some sharp peasant humor. Oskar's brick housing project ("a sink estate" is the British term for such a dump) only has one sign of life, a Chinese restaurant open late. There, the aging no-hopers drink their beer. They're vampire fodder, but it takes them a while to understand that. "Thanks for another evening steeped in friendship and merriment," one of them says after a grumpy drinking session; it's a wonder Eli doesn't get a hangover from their blood. Speaking of victims, even if Oskar is put upon, there's an element of doubt about his goodness. In his first triumph over his bullies, he doesn't look exalted, His smile is moronic, and he breathes heavily. Even before Eli materialized, Oskar was manifesting blood lust.


Movie Times LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (R; 114 min.), directed by Tomas Alfredson, written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, photographed by Hoyte Van Hoytema and starring Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose.


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