Book (and Movie) Review: Let The Right One In

Filed in Gather Entertainment News Channel by on January 26, 2010 0 Comments

The last time I read a book of the ‘horror’ genre, it was Stephen King’s Pet Semetery.   It was years ago.  I stayed up until 4 a.m. finishing it because I just could not put it down, then laid in bed, eyes wide open and heart pounding until I had to get up.   I swore after that to avoid horror stories and have been quite successful until now. 

I heard about Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 vampire fiction novel, Let the Right One In (Swedish: Låt den rätte komma in, also known as Let Me In) in a review of the movie by the same name.  The film project started in late 2004 when John Hordling, a producer, contacted Mr. Lindqvist’s publisher to acquire the rights for the film adaptation of the novel.  Hordling and Lindqvist discussed the project, both agreed on a common vision for the movie, and production moved ahead with Tomas Alfredson directing and Swedish composer Johan Söderqvist writing the score.  The first performance was at the Göteborg International Film Festival in Sweden on 26 January 2008 where Alfredson won the Festival’s Nordic Film Prize.  It subsequently won many awards, including the Founders award for Best Narrative Feature at the Tribeca Film Festival in NY in 2008.

The movie review left me anxious to see the movie and, coincidentally, it was available on the Netflix Roku service, no charge, no waiting.  Since I prefer to read a novel prior to watching the movie adaptation and had since read a number of rave reviews of Lindqvist’s book, I decided to take it on vacation with me and give the horror genre another try.  Everything I read pointed to the fact that this was not another vampire story, but rather a beautifully written love story.  I decided that if I liked the book, I would watch the movie when I came home. 

During the plane ride, and continuing during lunches and short breaks during the week, I savored each of the 480 pages in the paperback edition, not once skimming or losing intense concentration.  Lindqvist’s style is direct, sparse, clean, and sometimes bitterly cold and biting, very much like the winter suburban landscape of Sweden in which the story is set.  Most of the characters are flawed, oblivious to others’ feelings, self-centered and cruel.  Even the main ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’, if you can stretch the meaning of those terms to cover Oskar and Eli, 13- and 12-yr-old children, respectively, whose budding relationship form the heart of the story.  There is not one that I could say truthfully at the end that I actually liked.  But, although unlikable, Lindqvist presents honest, real human beings to the reader, dealing with honest, real painful life situations.  No fairytale magic here, no storybook endings.  But, there is redemption, there is karma and resolution that will in the end satisfy even the most romantic of readers. 

 The novel deals with some very heavy subjects – parental abandonment, bullying, abuse, alcoholism, pedophilia and the blurred lines between sanity and psychopathy, love and the need for security, loyalty and dependence.   Wisely, the movie was developed to purposely leave out some of these subjects, as it could not do them the proper justice in the time allotted, but the book pulls no punches and explores them thoroughly with a cast of characters that will leave you squirming not a few times in your reading chair.  The one thing I loved about this book was that it was not ‘scary’ – no pounding heart and racing mind when you put this book down.   Lindqvist pulls none of the trite tricks that more popular horror writers exploit.  His writing, his characters, his use of setting and dialogue create a world of dampened horror that does not pound the heart, but rather pecks at the brain and seems to ask, “Who is really the monster in this story?”  My answer was, “Certainly not the vampire.” 

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p.s.  Although a greatly abbreviated version of the novel, the movie is spectacular and mesmerizing, but could be a little confusing if the viewer does not have a good grasp of the story from reading the novel.  Having to read English subtitles does not help in this regard, either.  But, the acting and cinematography are astonishing and well worth the watch. 

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Modest, humble, and extremely self-discerning.

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