Saturday, 18 April 2009

Lat Den Ratte Komma In (Let The Right One In)

Analogue recordings of frogs, dogs and heartbeats. This was the remit of Swedish director Tomas Alfredson and sound designer Per Sundstrom when creating the soundtrack for vampire flick 'Let The Right One In'.

For anyone who has seen the film, you can't help but feeling unsettled by the loud gurgles, chomps and close up recordings of the soundtrack which add an extra dimension of horror to the stark cinematography and the cold and bleak backdrop of wintery Sweden. The film centres on the story of Oskar, a 12 year old boy who spends his time alone after suffering from the focus of bullies at school. A young girl called Eli moves into the house next door with her father, and an unlikely friendship and love story unravels. Eli is of course a vampire, a fact that is revealed as the backstories of the young lovers is revealed in parallel. While the visuals of the film are stunning, Alfredson understands the importance of the effect of sound in a movie.

"The soundscape is fifty percent of the experience. Any kid can nowadays easily point out where and how you've made certain visual effects, but very rarely what they've experienced with their ears. This is still an enormous orchestra to conduct, which is in the dark for the audience."

We remain tight to the story of Oskar and Eli, gaining warmth from their love amongst the cold and unremitting chill of the winter and Eli's unsalvageable situation. We sit close to them as they talk, Oskars nose runny and breathes thick, and this closeness is further empathised by the loudness of natural sounds, adding another dimension to the tension.

"You're so close to them sometimes, that you actually hear their heartbeats - and its not overdubbed heartbeats. We have added a lot of human sound to them - the tongues moving in their mouths, the sound of swallowing, breathing, hands moving slowly over winter dry fabric. Eli's voice is overdubbed. Lina (who plays Eli) has a too feminine and soft voice. After a thorough voice-casting we found a girl with the right abrasive and boyish touch. All of the sounds in the film are analogue; even effect sounds are analogue. When Eli's attacking we used analogue sounds from nature, animals. When she's biting its the actor biting through a sausage."

While the horror is not always visible, the sound design illustrates the imagination. Sounds stand out amongst the sparse design, mirroring the bleakness of the visuals. The shuddering clarity of Oskar and Eli communicating via morse code, and the unsettling crunch of the snow as victims walk alone. Eli's unsatisfiable hunger is signified by a ever increasing array of low gurgles, a pain that can never be cured and a danger that is impossible to avoid. She quickly morphs from innocent young girl to ravishing vampire, instinctively stooping to hungrily gobble up spilt blood.

The sound process was very complicated because visually, it's very important to have a dialogue with the audience. Most entertainment today is monologues coming out of the screen at you. A lot of films are overloaded with too much sound and effects and images. But if you leave out things or deliberately omit things visually, you always keep the audience interested. You make visual suggestions to the audience that help engage them. The same is true with sound. If you choose to have a lot of silence in your movie, it will really draw attention to the things you do hear. For instance, if you have a shot of a big city with a lot of cars and people, and all you hear on the soundtrack is a bird, your eyes will immediately start scanning the screen for the bird. It keeps you very active as an audience member."

What Alfredson and Sundstrum have achieved in the sound design for Let the Right One In is nothing short of wonderful. I sat glued to my seat, my ears listening intently to the intricately crafted effects, gleefully smiling at its intensity as it immersed me in the script. I don't often leave the cinema in a daze, but this is one of those films that stays with you when you leave, and is a magnificent cinematic experience.

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