The ground is covered with a layer of snow, under that a slippery-thick layer of ice, and North Jersey looks about as much like the suburbs of Stockholm as it's ever going to. When I think of Sweden, I think of thrashy, amphetamine-charged Death Metal, monumental acid rock, and Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson in Persona. All good things—great things even. Now Sweden has given us a highly original, for-the-ages horror film that embraces genre, while at the same time redefining and transcending it. Let the Right One In (2008), by director Tomas Alfredson, is based on the bestselling novel of the same name, published in 2004 by author John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay. Already, we have a Scandophile's dream production.
I finally got around to seeing Let the Right One In, after reading the enticing coverage and receiving several personal recommendations on it. I'm sorry on the one hand that I waited so long, though the current grim surroundings make this a perfect time to embrace such a story, dressed as it is in blood, snow and bare trees. And though the secret is well out about this film's greatness, I couldn't resist chiming in to heap yet more praise on this landmark picture, easily one of the best I've seen in the last ten years.
Lately some of my favorite horror films are those that truly address the human condition, using horror and its fantastical possibilities as a milieu to tell "real" stories. I've never fallen in love with a vampire, spoken with the dead or been taken aboard a UFO, though I've often wished that I had, if only as a mantle of proof that something exists beyond yearning, love, loss and bills in the mail. When I was a victimized, outcast, adolescent monster-movie nerd, obsessed with (and equally fearful of) the darkness, much like Oskar in Let the Right One In, I didn't have an adorable, tragic female vampire living next door to nurture my spirit and calm my confusion. So Oskar, and this film, tell that story for me.
This is about as close as I get to fully embracing any kind of heartwarming entertainment—the most touching love story anyone could tell for my singular demographic. I prefer my reaffirmation of life's value served up with mayhem, dismemberment, and tears of blood. And perhaps that's why Let the Right One In is so tremendous, and so deserving of its critical acclaim: we all want to enjoy a good horror movie and get those grisly thrills, but when a film can fascinate us in that way, shock us, but also move us in a genuine and sophisticated manner, it momentarily lifts horror out of being kooky or dismissible (Rosemary's Baby had similar impact in its day.) So with apologies to my fellow "proud horror dorks" (thanks Clayton), this is one that's just so good we'll have to share it with mainstream filmgoers, who will most certainly fall for its many charms.
Let the Right One In is also beautifully photographed, director Alfredson having a Kubrickian eye for the living spaces of working-class Swedes: the flats, apartment blocks, courtyards, hospitals and woods. And though the film already has an English-language remake in development (reportedly to be directed by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves), it's hard to imagine removing this story from its settings and achieving anywhere near the same level of cinematic excellence. Let the Right One In debuted on US screens in late October, and is currently showing at the Angelika Film Center in lower Manhattan. The film will receive its much-anticipated Region 1 DVD release on March 10.