Just the other day, a friend of mine was saying she wished she could see another movie that shook her up as much as Pan's Labyrinth. I think I've got the movie. It's called Let the Right One In, a Swedish vampire thriller becoming a word-of-mouth phenomenon on the Internet. It opens Friday at the Belcourt.
Much of the attention Let the Right One In is getting comes from its place in an ongoing renaissance of vampire fiction. This includes not only the immensely popular novels of Stephenie Meyer and Middle Tennessee's Sherrilyn Kenyon (whose latest, One Silent Night, just debuted at No. 1 on the Times mass-market paperback list), but also the blockbuster movie version of Meyer's Twilight and the HBO series True Blood.
If that helps it get an audience, all the better. But this scary, engrossing and profoundly unsettling movie (based on a well-read novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist) deserves attention even from people who think they can't stand horror movies. I'd love to know if Kenyon has seen it, and what she thinks.
I rather liked the movie Twilight, even if I understand why many people don't: it's often pallid and listless, and portentous in the manner of a TV pilot setting up a series. At the same time, it has a refreshingly feminine point-of-view, it's madly romantic without shame, and it finds a new slant on Buffy the Vampire Slayer's gambit of using a morbid genre to poke around in the gloom and agony of Everyteen concerns. Being a vampire in Twilight is more like being a mobster in The Sopranos: a member of a treacherous, elevated inner circle who must appear normal to everyone else--a tricky deal, since you periodically have to kill somebody.
But the movie Twilight ducks all the moral problems raised by vampirism, and Let the Right One In doesn't. Its characters, a 12-year-old boy in an industrial Stockholm suburb and the 12-going-on-200-year-old wraith who befriends him, develop a special bond, then have to face the consequences of what their lives will be like if each accepts the other. In Twilight, this is mostly a romantic complication. In Let the Right One In, it means having to decide whether you can turn a blind eye to your loved one's periodic thirst for strangers.
Ironically, even though its characters are younger than Twilight's, Let the Right One In has (and deserves) a hard R rating: it has only a few gory scenes, but they're infernally effective. (A climactic scene involving a swimming pool is already becoming legend among horror fans.) But it's also beautifully filmed, acted with great empathy by its two young leads, and enhanced by sound design that tunes our ears to a universe of otherworldly swooshes and rustles.
Let the Right One In is the kind of surprise that makes you want to run out and tell people not to miss it. Consider it done.