★ ★ ★ ★ 1/2
I’m not really a very fervent fan of the vampire genre. I feel these days that it is overused in everything from movies to novels to tv shows; it’s hard to trace when this vampire mania originally started, but it has definitely gotten out of control and is appearing everywhere ad nauseum. Heck, I’m not even a fan and have seen two vampire themed movies in the past week! That aside, however, this one did something unique with the subject matter and for that, I really enjoyed the film.
Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a 12-year-old boy who lives with his mother in a dreary apartment complex in Sweden. In school he is bullied by a small “gang” of children lead by a little snot named Conny (Patrik Rydmark). In his spare time, he has dreams of the revenge he hopes to one day get on his oppressors. In the meantime, however, he weakly takes their daily taunts and physical abuse. A strange man and his supposed daughter move in to the apartment next to Oskar, and around this time various murders begin happening around the city. Because one of the murders was a child, Oskar’s mother restricts his playtime to the courtyard in front of their apartment building, and it is here one night he meets the girl next door, a pale, strange acting child named Eli (Lina Leandersson). The two soon become fast friends and, though Oskar knows something is different about Eli, he still accepts her just as she accepts him for his shortcomings.
Directed by Tomas Alfredson on a very low budget in today’s terms for a feature film ($4,000,000), the movie carries quite an eery quality to it throughout. The cinematography and direction, mixed with the stark cold atmosphere naturally provided by the filming location, gives a very disjointed feel to the film. Being a horror film, this almost unnerving mood fits the story perfectly. Also, though it never says, I think the film is supposed to take place in the 1980s; either that, or Sweden is way behind technologically from the United States, as all the cars, clothing and housing had a dated feel to them.
The two young actors, Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson do a tremendous job in their roles. Leandersson, especially, will likely have a long and varied career ahead of her. Her subtleties in facial expression and body language to put across that she was really a 200-year-old vampire trapped in a 12-year-old girl’s body, was handled better than many adult actors could have achieved. I also really enjoyed the maturity of the relationship between the characters of Oskar and Eli. Even though they carried a certain amount of the innocence and naiveté of childhood, their relationship with each other was very much like that of a burgeoning relationship between two adults in the way they spoke to each other and interacted.
In short, this film was a unique and interesting take on the now over played theme of vampirism. The acting, direction and story came together beautifully to present a film that holds up as a good coming of age drama, as much as it is a horror film. If the cliches of the horror genre usually annoy you or become tiresome, then this is a smart, clever alternative that makes for a much better viewing experience.