Tomas Alfredson has been working in Swedish film and television for over a decade, but only now is he having the very specific experience of screening his work for an American audience. His movie Let the Right One In, a teenage romance/horror movie/coming-of-age tale/vampire drama (however you want to put it), debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival, and has been praised by virtually every critic who has seen it. Alfredson says he enjoys sitting in with the American audiences; "It's fantastic to go to American screenings to listen to the audience. American audiences, they show what they feel. Swedish audiences are dead silent."
That silence, both in movies and everywhere else, is something Alfredson says is "very Swedish," and is just one of the things that makes Let the Right One In such a strange, invigorating film. Alfredson intentionally set the movie during the deep, dark Swedish winter, surrounded by snowdrifts, in order to capture-- you guessed it--the silence. "It's a very special sound after a heavy snowfall," Alfredson said, adding that he paid special attention to the smallest sounds that the bodies of the actors made. "[We had] a scene where we micced their eyes. A lot of human body sounds."
What silence and snow have to do with vampires and teenagers is beyond me, but Alfredson has linked them inextricably with his elegant film, which starts when lonely 12-year-old Oskar meets Eli, the girl next door who turns out to have been 12 years old, ever since she was bitten by a vampire and became one of them. Alfredson said casting the two main characters, played by Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, he was looking for kids who were "opposite sides of the same character." Finding Hedebrant and Leandersson after a year of open casting (there are no professional chlid actors in Sweden), Alfredson said he appreciate that "Both of them are very old, sort of." He continues, "Behind [Lina's] eyes I could see an old woman."
The movie is set in 1982, as was the original novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, which is when Alfredson says he was a teenager, like Oskar. Though he said he "couldn't imagine anything more blushing than making a bad horror movie," he also wanted to avoid playing too heavily on his own nostalgia for the time. "I really don't like when films are too nostalgic. It becomes cheap when you play an old hit record. I tried to hold that down to a minimum."
In a story in which people are systematically murdered or attacked by a young vampire, Alfredson had to make careful choices about when to show violence, and how often. "With violence, it's like striptease. you really cannot take all the clothes off first thing you do. You have to keep the audience interested." He also noted what the best horror directors realize; that for the most part, what the audience imagines is far worse than what the director can show.
We can only hope that same sensibility will translate in the movie's American remake, which is being prepared by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves. "You get feelings of jealousy," Alfredson said about the remake. "I've been dancing with this material for three years, and now somebody else is dancing."
Let the Right One In opens this Friday, and is guaranteed to be the most interesting, thought-provoking Halloween release this year. Alfredson doesn't care if you call it a love story or vampire story or horror movie or what-- "That's for the marketing people." Bu see it regardless, for the sake of this emerging international talent, his brilliant young actors and your own spooky enjoyment.