There are few filmmakers with more overwhelmingly well-received critical (and cult) hits in the past decade than Tomas Alfredson. Who?
Sure, it’s not a name that immediately leaps to mind like some of his peers who have broken through from 2007 onwards, such as Zack Snyder, JJ Abrams, Ava DuVernay, Taika Waititi, Patty Jenkins or Rian Johnson.
In a business unquestionably hit or miss, Alfredson is yet to have a miss. In fact, his entire family are essentially artistic marksmen.
In their home country of Sweden, the Alfredson clan are neck-and-neck with the Skarsgärd family of Vikings when it comes to a dynasty of filmmakers. His father, Hans Alfredson, was a legendary director, author and actor who began his onscreen career in 1965 and passed away just this month at the age of 86.
His brother, Daniel, has almost the same level of hype surrounding him as Tomas given he too is a skilled director and was behind the camera on the Swedish adaptations of The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest television series and films (with Hans also acting in the final one).
It’s quite something to think that the three men of the Alfredson family alone are largely responsible for the visual style and tone of Nordic Noir, which has blown up internationally over the past 15 years. Yet outside of his prestigious family name, Tomas’ reputation as the Swedish Scorsese isn’t one to sleep on.
Kicking off his career in the mid-eighties, Alfredson worked basically every production role one can have in the film and television industry: from props and title design, to screenwriting and working as a grip in the camera and electrical department. One of his greatest assets as a director is this comprehensive knowledge and understanding of all the moving parts that make a movie. It’s an advantage that explains a large part of why Alfredson is a name that won’t be going away anytime soon.
Let The Right One In (2008)
Alfredson had already been directing television – both episodic and feature length – for over 20 years when he became an ‘overnight success’ with 'Let The Right One In'. Based on the cult Swedish novel of the same name, it was his cinematic take on the source material that saw the twisted vampire love story became a horror classic. In many ways, it was the film’s mesh of eighties nostalgia and genre pulp that set the tone for more recent hits like Stranger Things and IT.
Playing down some of the novel’s trickier subjects – such as gender identity and paedophilia – by alluding to them rather than diving in headfirst, Alfredson steered the story in a direction that focused on the central relationship between a lonely, bullied 12-year-old boy and the immortal girl who moves in next door.
Although there are many breathtaking, emotional and spine-tingling scenes that – when woven together – create the intricate tapestry of this gem, there’s one that is often talked about in the same breath as horror’s great moments. Jaws has the lilo at the beach, The Exorcist has the head-turning Regan, Texas Chainsaw Massacre has the final sprint to freedom, Halloween has the point-of-view murder. 'Let The Right One' in has the swimming pool massacre.
If you don’t know what we’re talking about, step away from this article immediately and watch the film. The inevitable American remake, Let Me In, with Chloë Grace Moretz came a few years later and was actually pretty good as far as American remakes go, but it failed to capture the creepiness and complexity of Alfredson’s original.
Watch the 'Let the Right One In' trailer:
Let the Right One In returns to SBS On Demand 4 October 2017.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)
Switching from bloodsuckers to covert operatives isn’t the most obvious of moves and there’s no denying Alfredson could have fallen into a comfortable genre groove after 'Let The Right One In'. Instead he tried his hand at John le Carré’s seventies thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Adaptations of the novelist’s work have been varied, from great (The Night Manager, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, The Constant Gardener, A Most Wanted Man), to good (The Deadly Affair, The Tailor Of Panama, The Russia House), and then just okay (The Little Drummer Girl, The Looking Glass War). Yet like Evil Knievel, points should be awarded just for the attempt when it comes to translating le Carré’s work on the small or silver screen.
To say Alfredson’s autumn-tinged effort is considered one of the best is testament to how good it is. With essentially every contemporary British actor worth his salt filling out the cast (Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Hurt), Alfredson proved the mainstream appeal of 'Let The Right One In' was not a fluke.
He could juggle an experienced, A-List cast alongside material that makes algebra look simple and still bring an entertaining vehicle in to park. Despite being nominated for three Oscars, it didn’t have the awards-season momentum of its competitors like War Horse, Tree Of Life, Hugo, Midnight In Paris and The Descendants. However, while those films have faded in the minds of audiences as each year has passed, Tinker Tailor Solider Spy has surged to the foreground and cemented its status as a masterpiece of movie making.
'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' airs Friday 29 September on SBS at 8.40pm.
The Snowman (2017)
Dropping in cinemas worldwide in just a few weeks, Alfredson’s latest combines the Nordic creep of 'Let The Right One In', right down to utilising the weather elements, with the clever twists and turns of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
Starring Michael Fassbender as a rugged detective (is there any other kind?) on the trail of a serial killer, The Snowman looks like a modern Silence Of The Lambs … we hope. Originally Martin Scorsese was attached to direct, however, when he stepped back into an executive producer role it was Alfredson he handpicked for the task.
After all, if you can no longer have Scorsese then why not get the Swedish Scorcese? The Snowman is also based on a novel and Alfredson seems to have become the master at converting books into films people actually want to see. It’s a tough challenge and there’s a reason the phrase ‘the book was better’ exists.
Yet unlike a majority of filmmakers, Alfredson seems to understand what it is that needs to be cut from a novel, what must remain, and how to make a compelling cinematic take that stays true to the tone and themes of the original while becoming its own beast entirely. It’s no wonder readers and viewers alike trust him.
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