Friday, December 12, 2008

My Twenty Favorite Actresses

People know better than to tag me for things like this, but when Film Experience's Nathaniel R. launched a "Twenty Favorite Actresses" meme, it captured my imagination -- or rather, the results did. All the lists I've seen on other blogs (Nathaniel's been maintaining a list) have been interesting or intriguing, but it wasn't until I set about assembling my own that I saw how truly subjective these lists are and what they say about each of the compilers and their respective views about women.

What I think my list shows about me is that I like strong, intelligent, adventurous, enigmatic women, but also quirky, curious, funny women --and indeed I do. I was initially concerned that my list would include a lot of intangible, wraith-like women, presences rather than actresses, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that my final choices convey quite a bit of warmth and tangibility. At the same time, I found that I tend to respond to actresses who are instruments of a director's specific vision. And I'll warn you up front: my list is almost entirely Eurocentric.

My list is followed by the names of some other actresses of whom I am exceedingly fond, but whom I couldn't really include in my main list -- mostly because they've affected me on the strength of only one great, or one particular, performance to date. And it pains me to leave out so many other wonderful actresses whom I've admired and/or adored -- women like (off the top of my head) the recently late Nina Foch, Jessica Tandy, Ruby Dee, Vera Miles, Jane Asher, Diana Sands, Kumi Mizuno, Marianna Hill, Joan Cusack, my dear friend Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni and, more recently, Pamela Adlon -- because they are still awaiting (and, in some cases, never got) The Role that would let them show the full range of their talents. An even tougher bullet to bite is knowing that there are many, many actresses who earned a place on this list, by giving indelible performances in unforgettable films -- Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Patricia Neal, Janet Leigh, Billie Whitelaw, Anouk Aimée, Vanessa Redgrave, even Paula Prentiss (who is so wonderful in MAN'S FAVORITE SPORT?, a film I love), to name a few -- but, as I say, this list isn't really about them; it's about me.

I have tried to present my list in order of preference as much as is humanly possible. The first 10 are pretty firm; the second 10 are more interchangeable in their order. Let's start at the toppermost of the poppermost:


DELPHINE SEYRIG
In assembling this list, I realized that acting talent is ultimately not as important to me as presence, and how rare it is to find both qualities in the same package. Delphine Seyrig is my favorite because she truly was a great actress, as Alain Resnais' MURIEL perhaps proves best of all, but more importantly, she was one of the medium's great enchantresses. François Truffaut understood this when he cast her as Antoine Doinel's ideal woman in STOLEN KISSES, as did Jacques Demy when he cast her as the Fairy Godmother in DONKEY SKIN. She had tremendous natural chic and a voice like milk and honey; when she uses that voice in Harry Kumel's DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS to describe the tortures committed by Countess Erzebet Bathory, the frisson she creates is unbearably erotic. I find her most compelling in Joseph Losey's ACCIDENT ("It can't be... it can't be...") and Luís Buñuel's THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE. People who knew her personally have described the offscreen woman as "down to earth," which doesn't jibe at all with the celestial being I know from the movies, but knowing that "Delphine Seyrig" was not the woman herself but rather her invention only raises her higher in my estimation. The camera loved her, yes, but no more than I.

IRENE JACOB
And yet... No actress, past or present, illuminates the screen for me like this one does. When Krzysztof Kieslowski died, I wept for her loss moreso than yours, mine and ours. Louise Brooks had her Pabst, Soledad Miranda had her Franco, but no other meeting of actress and director tapped the spiritual heights and depths that Jacob and Kieslowski explored together in THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE and RED. Discovered by Louis Malle in AU REVOIR, LES INFANTS, Jacob has the well-trained ability and natural grace and bearing to knock any film onto higher ground, but most other directors she's worked with haven't known what to do with that advantage. After dabbling in US/UK productions like OTHELLO and U.S. MARSHALS, she has returned to French productions -- and consequently, and very sadly, American fans like me are losing track of her.

HELEN MIRREN
I feel a bit guilty for placing Helen Mirren here, in the third slot, because I feel she's the most watchable and consistently surprising actress working today. Her career is the ultimate proof that genuine talent is unassailable: this Royal Shakespeare Company player was pulling the most brazen get-attention stunts from the very beginning, stripping off for Michael Powell's AGE OF CONSENT while still in her teens, romping around fully nude in Ken Russell's SAVAGE MESSIAH, and moving on to the Guccione porn of CALIGULA... but complementing these more revealing roles was her real dues-paying work in O LUCKY MAN!, THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY and CAL. Age, which destroys most actresses in the marketplace, has only reinforced her standing; she remains vitally sexy in her 60's, and her intelligence and continuing audacity have much to do with her sex appeal. For anyone else, her many PRIME SUSPECT roles as Jane Tennison would have been a career pinnacle, but for Mirren, it was just a way of getting to still more amazing portrayals as England's past and present Queens. Incredibly, her best work could still be ahead of her.

MONICA VITTI
She makes my list solely on the strength of her work with Michelangelo Antonioni (L'AVVENTURA, L'ECLISSE, RED DESERT), but these are some of my favorite films and they're all about her. While those three films are a bit staggered in quality, or at least in the order I like them, her work grows deeper and richer from one film to the next. It's possible that I should have placed her in the slot after...

JULIETTE BINOCHE
Her filmography tells you everything you need to know. Binoche has at least one advantage over Irène Jacob: even when she appears in commercial trifles that seem unworthy of her, like Louis Malle's erotic suspenser DAMAGE or the Steve Carell comedy DAN IN REAL LIFE, she invests them with a warmth, tenderness and gravitas that somehow lifts every other player, every other department, up to her level. Her talent invites everyone in, and can bear it. At her best -- as in Philip Kaufman's THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, Kieslowski's BLUE or Leos Karax's THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE -- she is in a league of her own.

ROMY SCHNEIDER
Romy would have made my list had she only made Andrzej Zulawski's astonishing THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO LOVE (pictured), but her career is an almost chronologic study of an actress awakening to the depths of her own art, and her lessons were hard-won from a tragic life. Orson Welles wisely cast her as one of the many taunting female presences in THE TRIAL, after which she seems to first come fully into her own opposite real-life lover Alain Delon in the erotic thriller THE SWIMMING POOL. But her best work was still to come, with Zulawski, but also in CESAR AND ROSALIE, Visconti's LUDWIG, DEATH WATCH and the shocking THE INFERNAL TRIO.

PAMELA FRANKLIN
This British actress made her screen debut at age 10 in Jack Clayton's THE INNOCENTS and continued to make films, showing exquisite taste in everything she made throughout the 1960s, from animal-themed family fare (A TIGER WALKS, THE LION) through a stunning performance in THE THIRD SECRET where we actually see her graduate from a child to a young adult actress of the first caliber. Hammer's THE NANNY and a remarkable second collaboration with Clayton, OUR MOTHER'S HOUSE, heralded her teen phase, which climaxed with her extraordinary work in THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, for which she deserved an Oscar nomination. She continued to be a beguiling presence in a few scattered adult roles, like John Huston's SINFUL DAVEY, John Erman's ACE ELI AND RODGER OF THE SKIES and John Hough's LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, but after making a couple of trashy films for Bert I. Gordon and finding no other work in her adopted America but forgettable guest spots on disposable TV series, she wisely got off at the next stop and never looked back.

ÉDITH SCOB
She inhabits Georges Franju's work (HEAD AGAINST THE WALL, EYES WITHOUT A FACE, JUDEX) and Luís Buñuel's THE MILKY WAY like an Angel in captivity, and I would imagine it's a rare director who can summon the courage to work with such delicate baggage... but she's grown into a tough old bird, and perhaps always has been, showing a fuller range of human emotions in films like THE LOVERS ON THE BRIDGE, TIME REGAINED, and THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF. She's actually shocking as the drunken bitch slut in Zulawski's FIDELITY. Good for her!
LOUISE BROOKS
Some argue that her helmet-shaped haircut made her, others claim that she spent her later years devising her own mythology, but her work onscreen supports her legend. Brooksie had what Bettie Page had before Bettie Page had it: the perfect balance of wholesomeness and decadence -- she seemed to hold up a mirror to mankind's darkest desires. It was her good fortune to be invited to Germany to work with the great G.W. Pabst, who, in THE DIARY OF A LOST GIRL and PANDORA'S BOX, found ways to ponder these qualities visually so that the rest of us would ponder them too. Eighty years later, we still are, and she doesn't seem to have aged a day, even though the real Louise has long since come and gone. She was a damn good writer, too.

SOLEDAD MIRANDA
This former dancer showed unusual vibrancy even in her earliest work in Spanish cinema, but it took Jess Franco to transmute her into the horror genre's most compelling Galatea. Remote, unknowable and absolutely haunting, she seems to need our protection as well as our blood. Her immortality was cemented by her death in an auto accident at the age of 27.

ANNA KARINA
I must admit to loving Karina as much for what she represents -- the artist's muse -- as for what she's done, but she's splendid in everything she made with Godard, even the little silent movie pastiche they made together for Agnes Varda's CLEO FROM 5 TO 7. This isn't the first or the last time I'm saying this of my choices, but I wish more of her work was available for viewing here in the States; I would love to see her in Tony Richardson's film of Vladimir Nabokov's LAUGHTER IN THE DARK.
MEIKO KAJI
For my money, she of "the castrating gaze" is the finest silent film actress of the talkies -- as her "Female Prisoner Scorpion" and "Lady Snowblood" series prove in spades.

CATHERINE DENEUVE
Her beauty and cool demeanor have prevented many from taking her as seriously as she deserves. She may well be the finest actress to have devoted a major share of her career to horror and fantasy cinema: REPULSION, BELLE DE JOUR, THE HUNGER and DANCER IN THE DARK, not to mention her delightful work with Jacques Demy. Like Helen Mirren, she continues to do outstanding work in mature roles.

GRETA GARBO
One of the great faces of cinema, Garbo's perfection runs the risk of making her too emblematic. Cold-blooded in most photos, she's a warmer presence onscreen, giving her best performances in her later movies: QUEEN CHRISTINA, CAMILLE and NINOTCHKA. She was still maturing at her craft when the crass mediocrity of TWO-FACED WOMAN propelled her into an early and permanent retirement.

DEBORAH KERR
Frankly, she doesn't ring my bell in everything she did, but Michael Powell (who loved her) really knew how to use her. She was indelible as the three faces of womanhood in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, and luminous as Sister Clodagh in BLACK NARCISSUS. Also remarkable in END OF THE AFFAIR and THE INNOCENTS, and iconic in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY.

MILENA VUKOTIC
My dark horse selection, but she's more than earned her placement here, I assure you. Quirky, funny, stylish and sexy in a offbeat way, La Vukotic -- a favorite of Fellini (she was the maid in JULIET OF THE SPIRITS and the TV interviewer in TOBY DAMMIT) and Luís Buñuel (who cast her in THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE and THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY) -- is likewise unforgettable as the corrupt associate in THE HOUSE WITH THE YELLOW CARPET and the plain spinster daughter who cannot bear to live after the spectacular dismemberment and staking of Udo Kier in BLOOD FOR DRACULA. I suspect I have not seen her best work.

MARIA DE MEDEIROS
This bird-like Portuguese was remarkable as Anaïs Nin in Kaufman's HENRY AND JUNE and heart-stoppingly sweet in Quentin Tarantino's PULP FICTION. There's no one else in movies quite like her -- I enjoy her music, too. (You can see some samples at YouTube.) I would like to see more of her screen work, but comparatively little has received distribution in the States. She's multi-lingual, works where and when she likes, and seems quite content not to be chasing the runaway train of movie stardom. A sensible woman, then, as well as a fine and varied artist. Praising her gives me oral pleasure.

DALIAH LAVI
A true she-lion of the cinema, possessed of balletic grace, animal energy and superhuman spirit. She rightly categorizes most of her films as "garbage," but she gave extraordinary performances in Mario Bava's THE WHIP AND THE BODY and the fact-based story of demonic possession, IL DEMONIO. She left the cinema in the 1970s to concentrate on a career in music, with which she had extraordinary success in the German market.

STEFANIA SANDRELLI
I'm told that this Divinity is not only one of Italy's finest actresses, but an intellectual offscreen as well. I first took note of her in the delightful performances she gave in Bernardo Bertolucci's THE CONFORMIST and Pietro Germi's ALFREDO, ALFREDO, and Bertolucci has continued to cast her in supporting roles in later pictures like 1900 and STEALING BEAUTY. But it was her breakthrough performance in Germi's DIVORCE, ITALIAN STYLE that continues to resonate; it's a marvelous film on every level, but I came away from it with one basic thought: that Sandrelli had the most sacred chin I'd ever seen. She also displayed a fearless, gratifying and volcanic eroticism in Tinto Brass' THE KEY. I hate having to vamp on this again, but the IMDb credits her with 116 films, and I doubt that more than 20 have had any exposure in America.

JESSICA HARPER
Pictured here in Dario Argento's SUSPIRIA, this deep-voiced Chicago gamine was the bravest American actress of her generation, giving classic (and sometimes startling) performances in De Palma's PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE, the ROCKY HORROR sequel SHOCK TREATMENT (where she struts about, looking like a dolled-up 10-year-old boy in drag, singing about looking for trade), the X-rated INSERTS, the Steve Martin version of Dennis Potter's PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, and Woody Allen's STARDUST MEMORIES. She retired from films after having children, then pursued a successful career as a musical entertainer for kids, but was lured back for a bit part in Steven Spielberg's MINORITY REPORT. The year before, in A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, the presence of lead actress Frances O'Connor had prompted numerous critics to mention her startling resemblance to Harper -- proving that she had not been forgotten during her long vacation from the screen.

This has been a tough but rewarding game to play. I deserve and accept all the kicks and punches that Molly Parker, Gena Rowlands, Bibi Andersson, Jean Seberg, Claude Jade, Claudia Cardinale, Dominique Sanda, Julianne Moore, Kathy Bates, Maggie Cheung and Naomi Watts (not to mention Anna Magnani, Mona Washbourne and Margaret Rutherford) can dish out. Of course, the eye is often more fickle than the heart, and I may feel differently about some of the above by tomorrow. Many, however, are permanent in my pantheon.
It warrants mentioning that every actress who made this list had more than one shot at getting through to my heart and mind. In closing, I feel the need to mention a few other actresses who worked the major magic of getting me to fall in love with characters they portrayed in individual movies: Rebecca Pidgeon in STATE AND MAIN, Pamela Brown in I KNOW WHERE I'M GOING!, Cathy O'Donnell in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, Kathleen Byron in THE SMALL BACK ROOM, Teresa Wright in SHADOW OF A DOUBT, Susan Strasberg in PSYCH-OUT, Anne-Laure Meury in THE AVIATOR'S WIFE, Olivia Williams in RUSHMORE, Zhang Ziyi in 2046, and Claudine Spiteri in THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS spring most wonderfully to mind.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Search the Bava Book

During the past year, we've fielded some inquiries about when my mammoth tome MARIO BAVA ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK might be available through Amazon.com. Well, it's available there now -- just in time for the holidays -- and here's the link to the sales page.

It may interest you to know that the Amazon listing offers a nifty "Look Inside!" feature that allows you to search for specific words or names inside and also to peruse a limited amount of interior pages. I'm sure there are some interested people out there who haven't bought the book because they've never seen a copy in person and haven't had the opportunity to page through it to prove to themselves that it's worth the investment. This "Search the Book" feature will help those people to spend a little time with this 12-pound monster and find out why it became the most celebrated film book of 2007-2008, winning the International Horror Guild Award, the Independent Publishers Award, the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Film Award and the Saturn Award for Special Achievement.


In case you're wondering if it will do us, the publisher, more good if you buy the book directly from us, or through the Amazon seller... the answer is Yes, we'll see more profit from the sale if you buy the book from us directly, and we pride ourselves on the efficiency of our mail order department -- but we're fine with whichever way makes you feel most comfortable. By all means, though, make use of the "Look Inside" feature and take a gander at Mario Bava's life... and a big chunk of mine and Donna's, too.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Revisiting CRASH

In the past couple of weeks, I have watched David Cronenberg's 1996 film of J.G. Ballard's CRASH no less than three times. This is a period when I should be reviewing new product, or perusing old product that was neglected the first time around, but CRASH started reaching out to me in ways that could not be denied.
It began innocently enough with me realizing that I had never acquired the film on DVD during those years of the industry's LD to DVD conversion, for two very good reasons: 1) the New Line DVD had not ported over the Cronenberg commentary and extras from the Criterion laserdisc, and 2) what it had put in their place was an optional R-rated viewing option, which I found offensive. I wrote about CRASH in a feature length essay that appeared in VIDEO WATCHDOG #42 (Nov/Dec 1997, sold out); since then, I hadn't seen the film again, but during that interval, I've sometimes asked myself if I might not have been too hard on it, because I'm such an admirer of J.G. Ballard's 1970 novel. (On one of my VIDEODROME interview tapes from 1982, I can be heard recommending to Cronenberg that he should read CRASH -- "I will," he promises).
I suddenly wanted to see the film again and my only ready option was my old Criterion laserdisc, which I decided to dub onto DVD-R in the process. The disc looked great on my old 32" Sony Trinitron, but viewed on my 60" Kuro Elite, the picture looks seriously dated: dim, pale in color with very uneven blacks, and, of course, non-anamorphic. I recorded the LD with its supplementary items (two cheesy trailers and a short featurette that finds the cast members talking about the project in mostly incoherent terms) and then recorded it again with Cronenberg's excellent, useful commentary activated.
Watching the film twice in close succession proved to be a useful exercise. In retrospect, CRASH appears to be the best film from Cronenberg's weakest period -- post-DEAD RINGERS to pre-SPIDER -- but, as brilliant as it sometimes is, it cannot meet the book's greatness even halfway. Yet there is something about it that tempts one to imagine that it will play even better on the next viewing -- and, in some ways, this hope holds true. After my second run-through, I knew that I couldn't live with my Criterion disc as my only reference copy anymore.
Thanks to the phenomenon of the Amazon Store, I was able to find a shrinkwrapped DVD for only $12. I watched it a few days after it arrived and it was indeed revelatory, not only as a sensual experience but because the enhanced anamorphic clarity of the image made sense of things the Criterion transfer had inadvertently glossed over, at least for me. For instance, the penultimate scene of Dr. Helen Remington (Holly Hunter, a committed but miscast performance) and Gabriella (Rosanna Arquette)'s lesbian assignation in the back seat of a car never quite worked for me, seeming ungrounded in the rest of the story somehow; but the New Line DVD was so crisp and clear that I finally understood that they were coupling in the backseat of Vaughan (Elias Koteas)'s burned-out wreck of a car. The scene charts the inevitable next stage of Vaughan's advent into iconography.

I have not gone back to my original essay to refresh my memory of my raw first impressions of CRASH, but I remember writing that it's a failing of the film that James (James Spader) and Catherine (Deborah Kara Unger) are such inexplicably icy characters; they seem to be such compulsive sex-obsessives because they require the warmth of other people. I think I made the point that they seem like the tenants we see driving out of the Starliner highrise at the end of SHIVERS, parasite-driven erotophiles rather than real human beings. This is curious because Cronenberg's commentary admits to him not appreciating CRASH on his first reading, finding Ballard's language too clinical and without the "passion words" he needed to feel closer to the story. In Ballard, that clinical quality of the wording is its passion, but Cronenberg's translation of the text to the screen is not just cerebral but unfeeling. Seeing the film again did persuade me that Unger really is quite remarkable -- ravishing in an Ava Gardner, film noir kind of way, as Iain Sinclair notes in his fine BFI Modern Classics book on CRASH -- but misdirected, so that she's far too poised and abstracted. Spader's lead performance strikes a cold note, too, but at least he's permitted scenes that show him an aggressor in passion and not without a sense of humor. Unger, far better in David Fincher's wonderful THE GAME, doesn't quite thaw even when she momentarily fears that Vaughan might strangle her.


Elias Koteas as Vaughan, whose interpretation of the role I don't think I liked initially, turns out to be the film's ace in the hole. He's brilliant in the way he summons the charisma from this creep, who is somehow able to pass for a doctor in a hospital corridor, able to drive into roped-off accident sites on the highway with a flashbulb camera, able to slip his unwashed hand between Dr. Remington's legs in one brazen move and send James a primly conservative "what are you looking at?" reprimand look a second later. I also like how the film, moreso than the book, shows how the standards of people like James and Helen slip as they become lured into Vaughan's underground fetish world, ending up passing their evenings in the seedy living room of the stunt driver family, the Seagraves, watching videos of car crashes narrated in languages no one in the room understands.

There is an elliptic scene of male homosexual foreplay (involving bizarre medical tattoos of what Vaughan calls "ragged prophecies") and intercourse, but where the movie presses its most provocative buttons is in the car sex scene between James and Gabriella, who wears a bizarre kind of leather and metal body brace. James is shown removing the cumbersome accoutrement from her leg, ripping away her fishnet stockings to expose a frankly labial gash that runs up the back of her thigh, encompassing an even more frankly clitoral nub of flesh, and having sex with the wound. It's the film's most persuasively erotic scene, but the one leading into it -- Gabriella teasing a Mercedes dealer who tries to install her in a showroom car and ends up inflicting costly damage in the display model -- is anecdotal and silly, though extremely well played by Arquette. In his commentary, Cronenberg describes the car salesman as the most realistic character in the film, but he seems to me the least realistic -- a sitcom's idea of a car salesman.

The side break on the Criterion disc actually assists the film by punctuating a problem spot where the movie appears to have run out of money. One minute, James is in Vaughan's car and then we're suddenly looking at the back of James' head as he's looking out an office window -- it's still night, but he's somewhere else entirely. Someone, presumably a co-worker, asks if he needs a lift home. Without turning his head, James answers that Catherine is coming to pick him up. In the next shot, Catherine is there, outside James' office, watching, but so is Vaughan, clearly shaken up as he's questioned by police about some offscreen incident involving the hit-and-run of a pedestrian. "Vaughan's not interested in pedestrians," James says -- a nice line. The New Line DVD, which plays through without side break interruption, makes the viewer more aware of something missing, of something assembled from available pieces, in order to explain what would otherwise be the sudden introduction of Catherine into the backseat of Vaughan's car for the celebrated car wash sequence.

My retrospective interest in the film led me to belatedly acquire the aforementioned Iain Sinclair book, which I can enthusiastically recommend, especially to Ballard fans. He has problems with the film also, and the book spends most of its slim page count in a valuable exploration of J.G. Ballard's work and its adaptation to film, including some very rare early films either based on or somehow connected to Ballard's CRASH.

As for Cronenberg's CRASH, while I have a better feeling about it now than I did prior to this revisitation, it still leaves me very much in the same place where it leaves its two protagonists -- knocked sideways rather than for a loop, disappointed if not quite disengaged, and muttering to myself, "Maybe the next one... maybe the next one..."

Monday, December 08, 2008

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN reviewed

Young Lina Leandersson gives a hard-to-shake performance in the exciting new Swedish horror film LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN [Låt den rätte komma in, 2008] is a new Swedish horror film of many distinctions, one of them being that it was based on a Swedish horror novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. The writer, whose book has been translated into English, reportedly moonlights or daylights as a stand-up comic and his writing would seem to confirm the theory that every comedian is a closet tragedian.
Directed and edited by Tomas Alfredson, the movie works best if you approach it (as I did) knowing absolutely nothing about it, which makes it seem an effort of conscious destruction just to write about it, so I'm going to do my readers the favor of being elliptical. Suffice to say that it's a film about a childhood relationship between two twelve-year-olds, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and his neighbor Eli (Lina Leandersson), in which the two young actors succeed in giving psychologically rich performances that are so unusual, so refreshing within genre boundaries, that they feel almost immediately iconic. The strangeness immediately evident in their relationship turns out to have a supernatural cause and the film, rather than becoming a pure exercise in horror and shock and revulsion, becomes a tragic essay on the theme of amour fou and how love can make even monsters sympathetic and their most horrible traits forgivable. The curious title shared by the book and film refers to the discretion we should exercise in inviting new people into our lives and is derived from a song by Morrissey:
Let the right one in
Let the old dreams die
Let the wrong ones go
They cannot they cannot they cannot do
What you want them to do

Let the right one in
Let the old dreams die
Let the wrong ones go
They do not they do not they do not see
What you want them to

Let the right one in
Let the old things fade
Put the tricks and schemes (for good) away
I will advise until my mouth dries
I will advise you to

Let the right one slip in slip in slip in
And when at last it does
I'd say you were within your rights to bite
The right one and say, "What kept you so long?"
What kept you so long?

The movie isn't perfect (there's a scene involving CGI cats that goes a bit over the top), but despite one or two missteps, time may well prove it great. It's certainly rare for a horror film to be this emotionally moving and perversely enchanting; it's very likely to at least cross the minds of many audience members that Eli would have been a cool girlfriend to have at this age, despite her problems and the way one's proximity to her would complicate one's adolescence. The scene of Oskar and Eli's second embrace, when she enters his apartment uninvited, is actually heartbreaking in the way it underscores the mutual self-sacrifice each of them is making by reaching out to one another.

Eli (Leandersson) seeks temporary shelter in the bed of her misfit friend Oskar (Käre Hedebrant).

Those who, like me, are feeling alienated by the current direction of horror cinema will find this film reason to hope that the pendulum is finally swinging back to work that's more subtle, captivating and thought-provoking. There are scenes of remarkably subtle, Lewtonian horror (one of which specifically alludes to THE LEOPARD MAN) as well as some graphic moments graced with elements of poetry and, for those with the acuity of vision to grasp them, subliminal glimpses of Eli's real face. Also worthy of praise is the scenic yet cerebral 2.35:1 cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema, which captures nearly every set-up with a bisecting line, an off-kilter visual rhyme of the side-by-side arrangement of the neighbors' two rooms, or some geometric pattern that harkens back to the Rubik's Cube that initiates their contact.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is now in US theatrical release from Magnet Releasing. Don't wait for the US remake -- and yes, I understand those rights have been unimaginatively acquired, so the American branch of the genre is by no means out of the woods yet. I'm hopeful that Lindqvist, Alfredson and Co. will be able to resist the temptation to prepare a sequel, as it's a great pleasure simply to daydream about the stories these characters will likely share in the days, weeks and years following the invigoratingly open-ended closing shot.