It's always interesting when you have two movies with similar subject matter released in the same year. It happened with alien invasions in 1996 with INDEPENDENCE DAY and MARS ATTACKS!... killer volcanoes in 1997 with DANTE'S PEAK and VOLCANO... killer asteroids in 1998 with ARMAGEDDON and DEEP IMPACT... cutesy bugs in 1998 with A BUG'S LIFE and ANTZ... you get the picture.
Well, guess what -- it happened again in 2008 with the vampire love story sub-genre. Of course, there was TWILIGHT, the adaptation of the bestselling book series that has been making teenyboppers (not to mention twenty- and thirty-somethings) swoon for the past few years. But there was another vampire love story that has received nearly unanimous critical acclaim and has ended up near the top of several year-end lists that I've seen, but has gone almost completely unseen by the masses. I never even got around to seeing it on the big screen! But I finally watched it tonight, and now my name can be added to the list of those singing the praises of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.
It's a Swedish film from director Tomas Alfredson, based on a 2004 novel of the same name. (Note to you Edward Cullen worshippers who may already be crying "copycat": That's a year BEFORE the first Twilight book was published.) It's the story of a lonely boy named Oskar... shy, quiet, bullied at school. While in his backyard dreaming of revenge, he meets a mysterious new neighbor girl named Eli, and the two, in their respective need for companionship, forge an immediate connection.
Eli, of course, is a vampire. She tries to hide this from Oskar at first -- however, we know that she is the cause of the body count that has been piling up around town. As their friendship develops, she gives him the courage to stand up to his bullies, and eventually she feels safe enough to reveal her true nature. The love that develops is as sweet as it is doomed. Oskar doesn't fully understand Eli's situation -- and neither do we, as her backstory is hinted at just enough to satisfy Oskar's 12-year-old curiosity, but never fully explained -- but he knows that she is kind to him and they help each other and make each other feel safe.
What really makes this movie work is its subtlety. It's scary without resorting to in-your-face gore or scare tactics (save for one borderline-campy moment involving a bunch of cats). The tension builds slowly and is controlled by the stellar performances if its child stars (Lina Leandersson as Eli and Kare Hedebrant as Oskar are simply fantastic), implied events, haunting cinematography, and an underlying sense of forboding and melancholy. The film is faithful to most existing vampire mythology -- they can't go into sunlight, must be invited into your home (hence the title), etc. -- but there is nothing typical about this movie. It's just a great little piece of work -- well-crafted and acted -- and I highly recommend adding it to your Netflix right away so that you can watch it as soon as it is released on DVD. (Or, y'know, download it, like I did... but I really shouldn't advocate that in this public space, heh.)
Oh, and for the record, no, I did not see nor read Twilight. How, then, can I possibly claim that Let the Right One In is the superior vampire love story? Well, let's just call it a hunch....