Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Let the Right One In

2008, Sweden, directed by Tomas Alfredson (original title: Låt den rätte komma in)

A remarkably wintry bit of work, Tomas Alfredson's film re-imagines the mythology of vampirism and anchors within a recognisable reality, finding a deep streak of tragedy within the more familiar horror tropes. The film works against the prevailing tendency to glamorise vampires - Twilight, Moonlight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, True Blood - with the act of feeding depicted in brutal, messy, morally compromised terms, and these predators depicted as outsiders driven by their own desperate compulsions. What's most discomfiting about this is the idea that the vampire as a stand-in for the pedophile or even the killer - a threatening presence who is nonetheless strikingly similar to the rest of us, even if animated by very different drives.

Alfredson frames the vampire encounters within a coming-of-age tale, with a quiet boy turning to his odd young neighbour as he tries to escape from a routine regulated by constant bullying. There's no hint of romanticization, however: the young boy's vulnerability is his Achilles' heel in all of his encounters, and the solution to his bullying problems will lead him into more treacherous territory. The film has a circularity from which the deeper sense of tragedy emerges: boys become men, and men inevitably make choices and compromises they could never have conceived of as boys.

Alfredson is in absolute control of his material, slowly revealing information while building up his complex characters, and contrasting scenes of quiet winter sunlight with moments of startling violence: there are indelible sequences where a vampire enters a room uninvited - a component of the traditional mythology - and, later, in a scene of unexpected comeuppance in a swimming pool. His film is anchored by two remarkable performances from the child leads - part of a long tradition of strong youth acting in Swedish film - without which the narrative would have far less conviction.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States