Vampire romance

Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In is surprising, humorous, and surreal

REVIEW If you see but one preteen vampire romance this year, make it Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In. Rumor has it that Hollywood is looking to remake Alfredson's adaptation of a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, with Cloverfield's Matt Reeves in the director's seat. While Reeves might bring boffo box-office numbers, it's safe to assume that he'll either overlook or sledgehammer Alfredson's sleight-of-hand talent for finding the art in pop iconography and vice-versa — areas where Alfredson rivals Bong Joon-ho. He brings fiery Carl Theodor Dreyer undercurrents to a Spielberg revenge of the nerds scenario, mining the dark heart of childhood with the same revelatory and musical assuredness that fellow Swedish director Lukas Moodysson (1998's Show Me Love; 2002's Lilya 4-ever) exhibited before falling into a digital black hole.

The story is simple: loner outcast Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) falls for Eli (the superb Lina Leandersson), a pale girl with a big secret. The pleasure of Let the Right One In resides in its flair for surprise, from the uncanny performances of the lead actors to humorous surreal motifs such as an enormous white poodle lapping at a plastic jug of blood abandoned in a forest. In one standout set piece with direct connections to the film's title, Alfredson reverses the genuinely creepy window-tapping found in the original 1979 TV version of Salem's Lot. Throughout, he explores the subversive age-spanning love scenarios in Lindqvist's story with just the right amount of restraint, so that instead of provoking outrage, he unsettles assumptions. He's not bad at executing decapitation and immolation scenes, either.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN opens Fri/7 at Bay Area theaters.

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