Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in)


Let the Right ONe In
Lina Leandersson is a bloody mess.

(2008) Horror (Magnet) Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Karin Berqquist, Peter Carlberg, Ika Nord, Mikael Rahm, Karl-Robert Lindgren, Anders T. Peedu, Pale Olofsson, Cayetano Ruiz, Patrick Rydmark, Rasmus Luthander. Directed by Tomas Alfredson

The dark winter sky twinkling with stars above a suburban community covered in a blanket of pristine white snow. The perfect setting for a Christmas tale? In this case, the perfect setting for a vampire story.

Oskar (Hedebrant) lives in a suburb of Stockholm in the early 1980s. His parents are going through a bitter divorce and he is getting bullied at school relentlessly by Conny (Rydmark). He has no friends, no real relationships and is as lonely as a 12-year-old boy can get. His idea of fun is taking a toy knife his father (Dahl) gave him and fantasizing about using it on his tormenters.

That is how Eli (Leandersson) finds him, in the snow-covered courtyard of the apartment complex, playing with his knife. She’s a strange little girl, unnaturally pale, walking barefoot in the snow and seemingly wise well beyond her years. She resists having a friendship with him at first but eventually gives in. She lives with Hakan (Ragnar), a middle-aged man that Oskar assumes is her father and their apartment windows are covered with cardboard. Eli is never around during the day. Spoiler alert (kind of): Eli’s a vampire who has been 12 years old for two centuries, give or take.

When Oskar shows up with a cut on his cheek, Eli prods him to discover what happened and finds out about the bullying. She urges him to stand up for himself and as a result, he signs up for weight training classes after school.

Hakan has murdered a local resident for his blood but fails to deliver the plasma to Eli. She goes out and kills Jocke (Rohm), another apartment resident who was on his way home from a bar and drinks his blood. Hakan drops the body in a nearby lake. Unfortunately, this is the same lake that Oskar’s school takes a field trip to and the body is discovered. It is also the same day Oskar stands up to Conny, beating him with a stick when Conny attempts to bully him.

By now Oskar has discovered that Eli is a vampire and far from being frightened is somewhat curious and actually a little pleased that his new friend is so unusual. Their feelings for each other are getting stronger. However, Hakan has botched another attempt at getting blood for Eli and in order to save her from being traced back to him, he pours acid over his face, severely disfiguring himself. Back at the hospital he offers his own blood for Eli to drink which she does, killing him after which he plunges through the window to his death, giving Eli an effective distraction with which to escape.

Eli attacks Ginny (Nord), the girlfriend of Jocke’s best friend Lacke (Carlberg) but is interrupted by Lacke before she can finish feeding. Ginny begins to transform into a vampire herself. Realizing what’s happening, she asks a hospital attendant to open the blinds. The sunlight streams in and she bursts into flame.

Lacke, having seen who was responsible for Ginny’s attack and putting two and two together, resolves to bring her to justice. Conny’s psychotic brother Jimmy, incensed and embarrassed that a pipsqueak like Oskar had gotten the best of his brother, has a trap in mind. Can the two unlikely friends protect each other?

This is one of the best horror movies of the 21st century, so let’s just start out with that. It is also one of the best vampire movies ever made. It was remade into an Americanized version called Let Me In that was part of last year’s Six Days of Darkness and was a solid film in its own right. However, those who have seen both will tell you that the original Swedish version is amazing.

This is visual poetry folks, with stark Swedish landscapes punctuated by odd splashes of red and orange. Even the interiors have a curiously washed-out look (which is not what Swedish homes and apartments look like). This grim, grey, colorless cinematography is perfect; it is death and it is cold.

This is a movie that rests largely on the skills of its juvenile leads and the two young actors, found after a year-long search, fit the bill. Hedebrant has a weird looking haircut that would instantly mark him as a target for getting picked upon no matter what era he lived in. He shows the socially awkward side of Oskar, as well as the admirable qualities that make him worth rooting for.

Leandersson’s Eli is preternaturally beautiful and has a sexuality that is unusual in a girl so young. In the novel that this is based on, the Eli character is actually a boy who was castrated at the age of 12 shortly before becoming a vampire. Here that distinction is less clear; the filmmakers leave that sexuality ambiguous which to readers of the book is a nice little aside.

I can’t recommend this highly enough for any fans of horror films. The violence and blood probably won’t sit well with the Twilight series fan base but I think the relationship between Eli and Oskar, which the filmmakers wisely focus in on, is what makes this movie so special.

WHY RENT THIS: One of the best horror movies in years not to mention one of the best vampire movies ever. Tremendous performances by the young cast. Visual poetry.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The scenes of Eli feeding are extremely graphic and might be disturbing; Eli’s sexuality might be off-putting to sensitive souls as well.

FAMILY VALUES: The violence and blood is pretty extreme. There’s also some sexuality and brief nudity as well as some pretty messed-up and disturbing images, not to mention a few bad words here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The title of the movie (and the novel on which it is based) is a reference to the Morrissey song “Let the Right One Slip In.”

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $11.2M on an unreported production budget; I’m thinking this was very successful, box office-wise.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Margin Call

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Luftslottet som sprangdes)


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Lisbeth Salander contemplates her disdain for society.

(2009) Thriller (Music Box) Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl, Aksel Morisse, Mikael Spraetz, Georgi Staykov, Annika Hallin, Jacob Ericksson, Sofia Ledarp, Mirja Turestedt, Niklas Falk, Hans Alfredson, Lennart Hjulstrom.  Directed by Daniel Alfredson

When caught in between a rock and a hard place, your choices are generally limited. No matter what you do, you’re going to get bruised and maybe even squashed. Your best choice of action might just be to attack the rock.

Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) is in a hospital bed, a bullet lodged in her brain following the events in The Girl Who Played with Fire. She is recovering but now she is being charged with attempted murder. The police want very much to talk to her but Dr. Jonasson (Morisse), who is her physician, forbids anyone but her lawyer, Annika Giannini (Hallin) – who is also the sister of Millennium publisher Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) – from visiting.  

In the meantime, Evert Gulberg (H. Alfredson) and Frederik Clinton (Hjulstrom), old comrades from The Section, a loose group of operatives in the Swedish Security Service who have operated on a quasi-legal basis, meet and decide that in order to protect their group, Salander will have to die, as well as her father, Alexander Salachenko (Staykov), who lies in a hospital bed a few rooms down from Salander, recovering from the wounds at her hands.

Gulberg, who’s dying of cancer, is elected to do it. He kills Salachenko in his bed, then tries to get to Salander’s room but Giannini, who was visiting her client, bars the door and Gulberg can’t get to her. He sits down on a nearby stool and shoots himself in the head.

Blomkvist is planning to publish an expose just before Salander’s trial in order to tell her side of the story and throw the light of day on the murky figures who have opposed her. The Section is none too pleased about either and put plans in motion to discredit Blomkvist and have Salander committed to the mental hospital where she spent much of her childhood after attempting to kill her father in an attempt to save her mother from spousal abuse (getting all of this so far?) for which Dr. Peter Teleborian (Rosendahl), a member of the Section and Salander’s former psychiatrist, has created a false report in order to do so.

With events spinning towards a reckoning and Salander’s half-brother Niedermann (Spreitz) loose in the countryside also wanting Salander dead, things are going to get a whole lot of ugly before they get resolved. The question is, will Blomkvist and Salander be alive to see things come to a close?

The third of the Millennium trilogy is in my opinion, the best one of the three and it is for somewhat odd reasons. Granted, Lisbeth Salander, the most compelling character, spends most of the movie locked up either in the hospital in jail but this I think makes her more vulnerable; her character is such a force of nature in many respects that a change is needed from the first two movies.

When Salander shows up in court in a Mohawk and leathers, it’s one of the more compelling courtroom confrontations ever. She is thumbing her nose at the system, refusing to testify in her own behalf and essentially telling the world “I’m not playing your game anymore.” It is a further example as to why this character is one of the most compelling to come on the scene in ages, and why Rapace is perfect to play her.

Some critics have excoriated the film for being too talky and they do have a point – there is a lot of conversation and little action here. That doesn’t mean it’s boring however – it is so well-written that you are interested in the conversation and given all the subplots bobbing and weaving their way around the film, it is a sucker punch to the gut when they eventually come together at the end.

The hulking blonde impervious-to-pain hitman is a staple of the Bond series but he is human here, as is the evil men pulling the strings behind the scenes and the psychiatrist in the courtroom. They are not caricatures and not figures, but flesh and blood people, greedy and reckless yes but understandable at least. They feel a part of our own world, as does Salander and Blomkvist.

The first movie in the trilogy is due to be released in a Hollywood remake directed by Oscar winner David Fincher this Christmas, with Daniel Craig as Blomkvist and newcomer Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. It is already being touted as an Oscar contender and could well be as successful here as it was in Scandinavia, the Swedish movies notwithstanding. However to those who are thinking of seeing that film, I urge you to find the three films made in Sweden and see them first.

WHY RENT THIS: The best of the bunch. Combines the taut thriller with a gripping courtroom drama. Rapace continues to be impressive.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Once again a bit blander on the action than Americans are used to, although when it does come it’s pretty good.

FAMILY VALUES: The character of Gulberg is played by Hans Alfredson, father of the director.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Gulberg was played by the director’s father.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43.5M on an unreported production budget; the movie was very likely a hit.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Super 8

The Girl Who Played With Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden)


The Girl Who Played With Fire

A couple of old friends get re-acquainted.

(2009) Thriller (Music Box) Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson, Michlis Koutsogiannakis, Annika Hallin, Sofia Ledarp, Jacob Ericksson, Reuben Sallmander, Yasmine Garbi, Ralph Carlsson, Georgi Staykov, Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl, Per Oscarsson.  Directed by Daniel Alfredson

There are those of us who have causes and are passionate in pursuing them. The trouble with tilting at windmills, however is that often we find ourselves face to face with our own demons – and some of those demons have wicked claws.

Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) is on the run following the events of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She has leased out her apartment to an attractive woman named Miriam Wu (Garbi) and has paid a visit to her old abuser Bjurman (Andersson), threatening him with his own gun. When that gun is used to murder him later, as well as two reporters for a left wing magazine, Salander is framed for the crimes.

It so happens the two reporters worked for Millennium, the magazine published by Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) who doesn’t believe for a second that Salander murdered his people. Blomkvist decides to follow the investigation they were working on into a ring that brought Russian girls into Sweden to be used as sex slaves for wealthy Swedish men.

As corruption at the highest level of government begins to resist the investigation, Salander who is doing some looking into of her own discovers that her own past is very much a part of the murky shadows involved in these crimes. As Lisbeth and Mikael find their investigations are beginning to point to the same place, Lisbeth’s past threatens to collide head-on with their present which may leave either of them with no future.

The second book in the Millennium trilogy is definitely on the transitional side. You get a sense that events are being set up for the third installment (and they are). Alfredson takes over from Niels Arden Oplev who helmed the first movie, and lacks some of the visual style of the first. It also lacks the intensity and stress level of the first movie. It’s certainly more laid-back in tone, with more exposition and less action.

Still, the movie is redeemed by Rapace who continues to make Salander one of the most interesting characters to come along onscreen in decades. We get to see much more of her – she and Nyqvist barely appear onscreen together and only then near the end of the film. In many ways this is very much her show and while Nyqvist is a capable actor, his role is certainly secondary to Salander’s as it is in the book.

Purists may again wish the movie hewed a little closer to the book, but of course that’s not really possible – as it is the movie runs a little long to me. There are some significant plot changes but by and large the book and the movie are similar enough to get by.

There are a lot of complexities in the plot, with lots of subplots running through the movie. That’s both good and bad. Good in that it makes the movie more of a thinking person’s movie – and God knows we need more of those – but also it makes the movie unnecessarily convoluted. While those plotlines are necessary, still it can make the movie feel cluttered at times. However, in the defense of the filmmakers, I’m not sure there’s a way around it without either creating a fourth movie or making the third a lot more confusing.

Still, while this movie isn’t quite as good as the first, it’s still miles ahead of most of the competition. This is still a well-written and taut thriller and while the ending leaves it feeling a mite unfinished, that’s often true of most second films in a trilogy anyway. There are some definite gotcha moments and the performances continue to be strong. It left me eager to see the third and you can’t ask much more than that from a second movie in a trilogy.

WHY RENT THIS: Rapace continues to impress as Salander. Taut and well-written.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little bit blander than the first. Too much exposition and not enough action.

FAMILY VALUES: More of the same – brutal violence, much of it directed at women. Sexual violence including a rape, a bit of nudity and a few bad words scattered here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the only book and film in the trilogy where the Swedish title is the same as the English one (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was titled Men Who Hate Women in Sweden and the third movie The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was titled The Castle in the Sky That Was Blown Up in Sweden).

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $67.1M on an unreported production budget; the movie was very likely a hit.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Man som hatar kvinnor)


The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo

This is not the girl you want to mess with.

(2009) Thriller (Music Box) Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber, Peter Andersson, Marika Lagercrantz, Ingvar Hirdwall, Bjorn Granath, Ewa Froling, Annika Hallin, Georgi Staykov, Tomas Kohler.  Directed by Niels Arden Oplev

My wife was often heard to say to my son (and she heard this herself often as a child) that the truth will find you out. It usually does, too – although sometimes it can take many years before it finally shows up at your door.

Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) is the publisher of Millennium, a left wing magazine in Sweden that goes after corporate and government officials mostly of the right wing variety. Blomkvist has just lost a libel trial against a wealthy Swedish industrialist and in six months time, will be sent to jail for it. He has temporarily stepped down from his position because of the scandal.

In the midst of this, he gets an intriguing offer from an aging Swedish industrialist. Henrik Vanger (Taube) is in his 80s, the patriarch of a wealthy Swedish family living in isolation on an island near Stockholm. 40 years previously, his niece Harriet (Froling) disappeared and is presumed dead. Nobody knows what happened to her although everyone assumes she was murdered. Who done it? Well there’s a whole family of suspects.

As it turns out, Mikael isn’t the only one investigating. Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) was hired to investigate Blomkvist and as she checks up on him, gets drawn in to his own investigation. She is one of Sweden’s best hackers and she has no trouble finding information Mikael can’t access. As time goes by, they discover that the Vangers have a couple of not-so-closet Nazis in the family tree. Salander turns out to have some dangerous secrets of her own and as Mikael closes in on the truth, nothing is what it seems – and it seems there may be something rotten in Sweden.

This is from the first book of the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy which is wildly popular in Scandinavia and more recently worldwide. The motion pictures based on the trilogy are among the most popular ever in Sweden and are due to be remade by Hollywood, the first due out at Christmas directed by Oscar winner David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.

So should you see these before seeing the remakes? I say yes. This is a world class movie, right up there with the best of Hitchcock and De Palma. The bleak Swedish winter landscapes create the perfect mood, with just the right number of twists – not too many, not too few.

The leads couldn’t be more different. Nyqvist is understated as Blomkvist. He is capable and intellectual but not what you’d call the typical heroic sort. He is more heroic in his convictions and ideals rather than as a physical purveyor of derring-do. He is a decent man caught in a situation that is way over his head, one he’s not nearly mean enough to handle.

Rapace however delivers a star turn as Salander. Lisbeth is a bundle of contradictory characteristics. Quiet and withdrawn in many ways, she also dresses in outlandish punk hairstyle and leather which inevitably calls attention to herself. There is a rage in her that’s just below the surface, a rage that comes out brutally when she’s raped graphically early in the movie. It’s a brutal scene that’s not for the sensitive and is anything but sexual. There are those who are disturbed by it, but considering the importance of the event in the series, it is a necessary scene.

I like the mood the movie weaves; it is a mood that contains the comfort of Scandinavian homes, the overwhelming fog of uneasy dread, the air of mysteries buried deep in the Swedish soil. While there is an Agatha Christie-like vibe to the first act, this is definitely the work of a mind whose roots are deep in the land of the Northern climes, where winters are deep, bone-chilling and soul-sucking. One can almost hear “Finlandia” playing on the soundtrack.

Even more to the point, these are characters that are real and compelling. Even the evil neo-Nazi bastards aren’t caricatures; there is flesh on all of these bones.  Lisbeth Salander may be one of the most interesting heroines to come along since Ellen Ripley in Alien. She has demons deep within her, most of them barely hinted at. She’s not always an easy character to like, but she’s always an easy character to be fascinated by.

There are people who won’t see this because it’s subtitled. That’s a shame; those who love thrillers will love this one. It’s not the most original plot; it’s just done in an original style. There’s a realism to it that works, as well as an air of melancholy that makes it Swedish. It’s not Hitchcock, but as this style of movie goes, it’s as good as anything that’s come along in the last decade.

WHY RENT THIS: Well-acted, well-filmed and well-structured – nearly an ideal mystery-thriller.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is not really ground-breaking and the ending is not too hard to figure out.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of violence and some grisly images. There’s also a graphic rape, nudity, some sexual material and a bit of bad language (in Swedish but nonetheless).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Noomi Rapace got her eyebrow and nose pierced for the film. She also learned kickboxing and lost weight. Incidentally, the actress playing her mother in the movie is also her mom in real life.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a Vanger family tree that may prove helpful in keeping up with the plot. There’s also an interesting interview with Rapace in which she discusses how she came aboard.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $104.4M on a $13M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Girl Who Played With Fire