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Let The Right One In: Swedish Vampires

As long as there have been movies, there have been vampire movies, and as long as there have been vampire movies, there have been bad vampire movies. Finding a decent blood-sucking flick usually requires a dedicated slog through the dozens of cheap, poorly-written, badly-acted and negligently-directed movies in the subgenre produced every year. We in the United States have a nice shortcut to good movies, though. Generally, if a foreign language film gets wide distribution in America, it's probably good enough to stand on its own merits. This is definitely the case with Tomas Alfredson's 2008 romantic thriller Let The Right One In.

Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist's 2004 novel Låt den Rätte Komma In, this leisurely paced horror film is not only one of the finer vampire movies to hit the screen in the past several years, it's also a good introduction to Swedish film in general. The story takes place in Blackberg, a quiet suburb of Stockholm. In fact, it's a bit too quiet. Aside from the presence of a murderer and his ageless vampire master, Alfredson's Blackberg is eerily empty and devoid of all but the most muted sunlight. This kind of cold desolation is common in Swedish cinema, providing a surreal atmosphere in which it seems that the characters interact by pure luck or a mysterious variety of fate.

Let The Right One In focuses mostly on a 12-year-old boy named Oskar whose life is a mix of loneliness and fear. Friendless, he harbors a lot of pent-up rage for the expanding group of bullies who pester him in ever crueler ways. But while Oskar only ever dreams of violence, his new neighbors make it into a lifestyle. Eli, the girl next door, has the appearance of a pubescent child but is actually a vampire of unknown age. The man presumed to be her father is a ghoulish caretaker of sorts, ineptly killing locals and draining their blood for his master's later consumption.

Most of the movie revolves around the strange intimacy that develops between Oskar and Eli, but it gradually incorporates the story of supernatural murder that unfolds while young Oskar sleeps. The feeding scenes are chilling but not gratuitous and the film generally avoids special effects. There's also a morbid sense of humor running through the movie that keeps it from being too self-serious.

Let The Right One In has seen two American releases so far. The first was the subject of some minor controversy for its supposedly hasty translation, so a second, re-translated version made it around the independent theater circuit in early 2009. Currently, a full American remake is slated for release in 2010. There is no word yet on whether or not it will further explore the darker themes of the novel, such as pedophilia, or if it will be more of a direct adaptation of the original film.

For those who like their vampires to be a little more monster and a little less emo romantic, Let The Right One In should fulfill the yearly quota. It's got just enough splatter and creep to feel like a proper horror movie, but it's far from a mindless creature feature.