Tomas Alfredson is an odd director. He’s made a film about vampires but knows nothing about them. Let the Right One In is a drama, but he’s known for comedy. It deals heavily with the theme of blood loss, but it’s a subject he’s uncomfortable talking about. However, because of all this (more than in spite of it) he was the right one to bring John Lindqvist’s novel about coming-of-age to life.
Innovation in a centuries-old story is hard to find. If everyone already knows the mythos, it’s tough to create a fresh origin story while staying true or to retell the original without boring an audience by going over the same ground. The challenge gets even tougher if it’s the bloodied ground of vampirism, and the difficulty increases exponentially if you happen to be a Swedish director trying to break into the American market.
Despite all of those hurdles, director Tomas Alfredson seems to have jumped them with ease with his film Let the Right One In. The movie about a bullied 12-year old who befriends his new neighbor, a young girl bloodsucker, has already won almost a dozen awards including Best Narrative Feature at Tribeca, earned a limited release here in the states this month, and has inspired a US remake.
Alfredson was kind enough to give us a call while on his US press tour.
“Losing blood has something to do with your innocence and virginity,” Alfredson says. “I really don’t know. It’s strange that this thing touches so many people. This vampirism. There’s almost nobody who isn’t touched by the subject.”
After he speaks at modest length about losing blood, the realities of the menstrual cycle, and the symbolism of it all, I ask him how blood loss affected him. He doesn’t want to talk about it.
“I hate losing blood. It’s really uncomfortable thinking about.”
So either Alfredson didn’t think all that deeply about a major theme in his own film or he didn’t personalize it. Whichever way, his formula worked.
Another key to making a vampire film for Alfredson? Not knowing much about vampires. He claims author John Lindqvist had to educate him on some of the most basic facts about the monsters, including the myth about them not being allowed into houses they aren’t invited into.
“I wanted to take this story as the first vampire story ever told. Everything I had to learn, I had to get from the writer.”
To be fair, the main vein of the film is about being young, feeling out of control and being at the bottom of the school food chain. It was this, the story about Oskar – a kid who deals with the daily terrorism of stronger, older kids – that was the “door to [Alfredson’s] heart.”
Still, the vampire factor is impossible to ignore, especially considering it’s Alfredson’s handling of it that sets the film apart from most coming-of-age stories. Not to mention most vampire flicks. And that’s why Let the Right One In has made a huge impact on audiences in the states. Apparently, our audiences are different from Swedish ones in one important way.
“It’s very interesting. I’ve been to four or five screenings here,” Alfredson says. “It’s a loud audience. They sigh. They laugh. They cry. Very nice for a filmmaker to hear an audience.”
The reason for the strong reactions is most likely the film’s incredible attention to detail, to framing, and to building a scene that takes place mostly in the mind of the viewer instead of on screen. Sparse use of special effects keeps things as realistic and raw-looking as possible, and that wasn’t by accident.
“My biggest problem was, ‘how do I make this look real?’ Special Effects are wonderful, and you can do anything, but it seems like effects are handled by deaf people or blind people – when they show a car exploding it looks like an entire block of cars blowing up.”
It’s unclear where Alfredson developed his disdain for the Michael Bay School of Filmmaking, but it might have come from growing up in a film family. He’s the son of prolific actor/writer/director Hans Alfredson. In true Reject fashion, the Swed avoided film school. “My film school was to work as an assistant on my father’s films. That was my university.”
The director is also in the strange position of seeing his work remade almost immediately in the states. When I ask how he feels about it, he’s less than enthusiastic, but still willing to give the benefit of the doubt.
“It’s a little strange to wait for [the remake], but maybe they have some good ideas. I don’t know. I’ll just have to wait like everyone else.”
Personally, I’m not that excited for the remake either, considering that Alfredson and company have already created a beautiful, haunting, touching film that blends perfectly two classic genres without stiltedness or pretense. Let the Right One In has a limited release starting on October 24th. Unfortunately, unless it’s available on DVD, most audiences outside New York City won’t be able to see it, having to settle for whatever the US filmmakers care to create. Most likely, they’ll pick someone who knows everything about vampires, doesn’t fear losing blood personally, and is known for drama. Which, as Tomas Alfredson has proven, might be the biggest mistake the producers could make.