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      Let the Right One In Review

      Let the Right One In poster

      Let the Right One In

      Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune

      I'm so sick of Swedish vampire movies, aren't you? Honestly, I've had it with those bloodsucking Svenskar. If you can stomach just one more, however, "Let the Right One In" is the Swedish vampire movie to see.

      The film is terrific. The upcoming screen version of "Twilight" (opening Nov. 21) may be the set of fangs everyone's waiting for, at least among certain demographics, but I can't imagine anyone older than 15, who cherishes vampire lore or not, failing to fall for this spectacularly assured, mournfully beautiful entertainment, one that mines an old myth for all sorts of insinuating new themes and variations. Director Tomas Alfredson treats John Ajvide Lindqvist's script, adapted from his novel, the way any fine director visiting a familiar horror narrative treats it: as if it's the first time for all of us.

      Twelve-year-old Oskar, a sweet, pale blond boy, lives with his divorced mother in a drab apartment complex in suburban Stockholm. Oskar endures routine, painful encounters with bullies at school. (None of these scenes are easy to watch, yet none of them feels melodramatically exploitative.) When first we see the boy he is toying with a knife, dreaming of revenge.

      His champion, savior and supernatural mentor all arrive in one ghostly package one evening on the forlorn jungle gym in the snowy apartment courtyard. The girl in question, Eli, says she is also 12, "more or less." She is oddly impervious to the cold, even for a Scandinavian. The initial small talk between them is rocky, remote, but something's there - they need each other in ways Oskar cannot yet understand.

      Eli has relocated from parts unknown with her own personal Renfield, a father figure who aids Eli in getting her what she needs to continue her existence. The color red is crucial to any vampire story, but it's amazing how director Alfredson and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema deploy splashes of blood, or close-ups of Oskar's pensive mouth, or crimson tree buds struggling to survive the winter, to sustain a visual leitmotif gracefully. For a genre associated with schlock and awe, "Let the Right One In" is unusually well-made. The scenes of violence are all the more unsettling for the camera's middle-distance observation point. Some individual shots - Eli's attack on a local hard-drinking apartment dweller under a bridge, or her rapid ascent up the outside of a hospital building - are stunners. And not since "Jaws" have severed body parts underwater been depicted quite so vividly.

      At heart the film is about an unlikely friendship and a precarious bridge built between two isolated individuals. Kare Hedebrant (Oskar) and Lina Leandersson (Eli) are excellent together, and because Oskar doesn't know what he's getting into, the audience experiences his awakening with a mixture of tingling suspense and genuine pathos. Already "Let the Right One In" has been slated for an American remake, by the "Cloverfield" director, and I suspect director Alfredson will entertain some lucrative Hollywood offers of his own. Good luck to everybody on all fronts. Meantime, this is one of the real finds of 2008.

      MPAA rating: R (for some bloody violence including disturbing images, brief nudity and language).

      Running time: 1:54.

      Opening: Friday at Landmark's Century Centre Cinema and AMC River East 21.

      Starring: Kare Hedebrant (Oskar); Lina Leandersson (Eli); Per Ragnar (Hakan); Henrik Dahl (Erik); Karin Bergquist (Yvonne); Peter Carlberg (Lacke).

      Directed by Tomas Alfredson; written by John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on his novel; photographed by Hoyte van Hoytema; edited by Dino Jonsater and Alfredson; music by Johan Soderqvist; production designed by Eva Noren; produced by John Nordling and Carl Molinder. A Magnet release. In Swedish with English subtitles.

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