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Let the Right One In:
A novel
by John Ajvide Lindqvist
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
[Ed. note: because of the unpredictable way accented letters are rendered
in English language browsers, they have been intentionally omitted.]
"Let the Right One In"
(aka, "Lat den ratte komma in")

In the annals of vampirism the bins overflow with derivitive, imitative, formulaic, predictable trash. Since Bram Stoker started a cottage industry for every horrormeister producer who could come up with enough bucks to pay the lab, the silver screen has been filled with fangs and fake blood. There are, of course, exceptions. Steven King's "Salem Lot" is one that placed the Evil One in the realistic setting of a small American town with his minder, which gave it class and set it apart.

Originality is hard to come by. The conventions are universally known: the garlic posted at the door or worn around the neck, the lack of a mirror image, the effects of sun, the coffin sanctuary, the need for blood, the infection bite, the ravagement of a community. Much to play on here, but rarely are these elements dealt with creatively. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson and novelist/screen writer John Ajvide Lindqvist are among those rare creative types who have added a very unique stamp to the creature that so fascinates us.

Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a very blond, frail 12-year old who goes to school where he's the butt of a bully and his stooges. He lives with his divorced mom. His nighttime amusements are limited to the grounds outside, as he bundles up against the Swedish cold, within sight of his apartment in Blackeberg, a suburb town. But, boys will have toys and, peculiarly, he takes his--a knife in a sheath--outside, where he proceeds to relieve his anger at his tormenter by repeatedly stabbing the blade into a tree while telling it to scream.

While he's engaged in this futile exercise in venting, a figure appears on a play structure behind him--a girl his age whom he had seen move in to the apartment adjoining his with an older man, presumably her father. She is Eli (Lina Leandersson), a remarkable-looking brunette 12-year old with saucer-sized, penetrating eyes. Oskar notes that she seems to be remarkably comfortable outside at night in light clothing and that she emits a peculiar smell. She informs him that he cannot be her friend--but it's because of his obvious attraction to her, not because of his unfiltered candor.

The scene shifts to the man who might be her father or, perhaps, rather, her minder, busy putting together several odd items into a portable kit, the ingredients of which include gasoline, a plastic container attached to a breathing mask, some rope, a knife. The next thing you know he's hiding in the woods, laying in wait. Along comes a teenage boy whom he attacks, overcoming him with the breathing apparatus, stringing him up to a tree upside down, and proceeding to drain him of blood.

But, he's discovered before he completes his task and runs home without the blood. He's severely berated for his failure by an off-camera female voice... Eli!, who then...

Well, somewhere soon after this we get the picture, though it'll be a while before Oskar realizes what his new friend is. And, yes, despite her admonition about friendship, a slow building of trust and acceptance have turned their relationship into a tender adolescent romance. With that as the emotional framework, Oskar deals with his confrontations with his bully nemesis and with the girl who has been a 12-year old for a presumably very long, unnatural time. When Oskar finally asks her if she's a vampire, she responds, "Yes, I live on blood."

If there's ever been a more sympathetic and winsome blood sucker in the canon of vampire literature, I'm not aware of it. And, intriguingly, in a version that is the polar opposite of the vampire-as-monster formulation, the director and author give us a charmer with whom to address the folklore that has been passed down since 1891 when Lord Byron's personal physician John Polidori wrote "The Vampyre" and later forged into the standard by which all such fiction is measured, Bram Stoker's "Dracula."

I don't know if these gentlemen would turn over in their graves at the sight of a 12-year old incarnation of their creature, but I'd like to imagine they'd endorse it for hewing to the conventions in such a probing way, starting with Eli's strictness in requiring an invitation before entering a household--as emphasized by the title.

Lindqvist's treatment of the conventions is no pulpy rubber stamp. His approach is adventurous in bringing attention to how they might apply to their inventive little character amidst the realities of her setting. Making an important show piece moment out of the title itself, they have Oskar challenging Eli by not inviting her in to his apartment just to test the veracity of the legend. She steps in anyway, and proceeds to bleed from pores and eye sockets--the moment depicted in the posters.

We don't see her flying, but Alfredson leaves no doubt that she does. We do see her scaling seven flights on the outside of a hospital building. We see what happens to a victim infected with the bite of a vampire when exposed to sunlight. And, we note, how unapologetic she is about what she is, illustrated by the fact that she is never in any rush to wash the blood from her face after a feeding.

Alfredson's achievement lies also in his unrushed mastery of dramatic structure, meting out details that are, in themselves, baffling, only to reveal meaning in their proper and most effective moments in the progression of the story. Part of the originality here, also, is in playing against the frightening eerieness that is the standard motif of the subject. Instead, you find here a disarming matter-of-fact innocence that's almost jolting. Through his camera angles and extreme closeup shots, it's also evident that he fully understands the treasure he's found in his debuting female lead and how to hold us in her bewitching grasp.

It's a most original meal of magical horror and gothic fiction. I can't remember the last time I wanted a film to be longer. Sooo... I want a sequel, more of Leandersson, and I sure want to see more of this kind of gripping originality in the darkness.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Lina Leandersson as Eli
A Swedish blood-sucker, a heartbreaker.

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