‘Let the Right One In’ new horror gem

Ben Raymond

If there ever were a completely and utterly dead genre of cinema, it’s the vampire movie. It’s laughable, really.

We have to go back to the Depression era to find a classic. Not since F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” in 1922 and Browning’s “Dracula” in 1931 has the vampire movie yielded quality. The subgenre died shortly after it was spawned.

Or so it seemed.

From Sweden comes “Let the Right One In,” a haunting and deeply moving picture about two young outsiders – a lonely schoolboy and a winsome girl-vampire – who fall in love and fight against their anguished fates to seek revenge and happiness.

Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) lives the doleful life of an outcast. Quiet, peculiar and friendless, he survives daily bullying and tortures at the hands of three schoolmates.

When confronted with their cruelty, Oskar can do nothing but endure. No one comes to his aid. He never fights back.

Amid the snow and lonesomeness of a dark, silent evening, Oskar meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a curious, ominously beautiful girl of 12, who lives in the apartment next door.

Eli is barely clothed. She has a lusterless, wintry complexion, raven-black hair and silver, wolf-like eyes as large as lakes. She speaks softly, when she speaks at all.

Oskar is bewitched, and he falls in love with the uncanny Eli. When he discovers she is, in fact, a vampire, his desire for companionship and understanding trumps whatever fear he holds inside.

Oskar and Eli form a deep kinship. But when Oskar’s tortures at school become violent and Eli is hunted by the community upon which she preys, the young pariahs’ unlikely devotion to each other is all that stands between them and a tragic end.

John Ajvide Lindqvist writes a phenomenal screen adaptation of his novel of the same title.

Director Tomas Alfredson and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema create a grayed, sinister atmosphere that saturates the film from beginning to end in a pungent sense of both peril and desolation.

The two leads, Hedebrant and Leandersson, deliver two of the finest turns of the year, and two of the best by young actors in cinema’s history.

Hedebrant creates a character of profound loss and unadulterated pity. His performance is subtle but piercing – nearly impossible to withstand. Thoroughly grief-stricken and touching to the last, Hedebrant is a marvel.

But there is no out-classing Leandersson. Her performance is positively unforgettable. In times of savagery, she is unsettlingly effective. In times of misery, she shatters the heart.

Effortlessly, she transforms the monstrous to the moving, inviting the viewer into her mania, her barbarism and her despair.

Leandersson delivers a performance of matchless potency – terrifying, pitiable and disarming all at once.

“Let the Right One In” is so much more than a horror film. In fact, it can barely be called a horror film at all. Yes, there is blood and gore and death. Any philistine, base-minded moviegoer could enjoy it purely for blood-spattered thrills.

But this sells the film grossly short. More than its terror, more than its raw, gaping brutality, “Let the Right One In” is as poignant a story of love and redemption as exists in filmmaking today.

In fact, it is difficult to find the words to adequately impart the film’s full pathos.

“Let the Right One In” is triumphant, pure and simple. It defies its unorthodox storyline and reinvigorates its tired genre to become one of the most moving experiences in contemporary cinema.

More than mere shock and viscera, it is a touching, emotionally powerful tale of loss, loneliness and hope.

The kinship and romance between Oskar and Eli is as potent a love story as any in film.

The futility of their love demands sympathy. The believability of their lonely and tortured lives somehow, inexplicably but certain, elicits empathy – possibly the greatest, and certainly the rarest, of all things educed by modern cinema.

Sufficiently scary but entirely believable, always tender but never melodramatic, it is the perfect marriage of entertainment and inspiration in moviemaking.

“Let the Right One In” is a crimsoned, sweetly gruesome picture of calamitous, come-hither foreboding sure to both terrify and touch the hearts of each and every one who experiences it.

Simply put, one of the best films in years.