Let The Right One In
Review by Jack Foley
VAMPIRES are very much back in the limelight following the success of the Twilight books and film. But while Stephenie Meyers’ best-selling stories are perfectly enjoyable in their own romantic kind of way, her vampires lacked much bite.
Not so Eli, the bloodsucker at the centre of Let The Right One In, a Swedish vampire whose exploits are made all the more admirable by the fact she is only 12. Eli may appear outwardly innocent and deceptively fragile, but she has her needs and sets about fulfilling them without hesitation or remorse.
And yet she’s also capable of kindness, as epitomised by her new-found friendship with fellow 12-year-old Oskar, a bullied schoolboy and flatmate who dreams of having the ability to defend himself.
It’s this unlikely friendship, and even tentative romance, that forms the basis of the movie, but which is also expertly balanced by some of the more horrific and bloody aspects of being a vampire. Eli needs blood, after all, and when her bodyguard, Hakan, is caught by the police while attempting to procure it, she is forced to resort to increasingly risky methods to get it.
Let The Right One In is a Swedish masterpiece, set in 1981, and directed by Tomas Alfredson from a novel that was adapted for the big screen by author John Ajvide Lindqvist. It is, quite possibly, one of the finest vampire films of all-time, and an obvious candidate for a US remake (Matt Reeves, of Cloverfield fame, reportedly already has the rights).
In current form, however, it is a movie that’s not to be missed. Alfredson imbues proceedings with a keen sense of style, using the stark snowy landscapes to underline the feeling of coldness and isolation that Oskar experiences on a daily basis.
His subsequent relationship with Eli is beautifully played, expertly juxtaposing the innocence of youth with something a little more sinister lurking beneath the surface. Eli wants a companion, but is loathe to open herself up too much for fear of being exposed. And yet in Oskar, she sees a kindred spirit, albeit in human form.
Inevitably, there is violence and Alfredson doesn’t shirk away from showing some of the grittier elements of the vampire genre. At first, Eli’s victims are drugged and strung up to be drained of their blood by silent helper Hakan. But once he is caught by the police, ever more desperate measures are taken, placing Eli at risk from the vengeful wrath of the local community.
Oskar, meanwhile, must overcome his own demons, in the form of a trio of unrelenting school bullies who take daily delight in humiliating him. With Eli’s encouragement, he begins to assert himself… but with similarly violent repercussions.
Young actors Lina Leandersson and Kare Hedebrant are brilliant in the respective roles of Eli and Oskar, appearing natural and unpolished – but in a good way. Their friendship is awkward, playful and entirely believable… as is their dangerous attraction, while Hedebrant’s depiction of his quiet desperation and anxiety is also believably relayed during the scenes he has to handle by himself.
There’s strong support, too, from a uniformly excellent adult cast, with Per Ragnar’s hapless Hakan emerging as one of the most memorable serial killers of recent times.
Alfredson’s direction also succeeds in creating a sustained air of menace and expertly balances involving human drama with some fine, creepy set pieces. Two hospital sequences and a swimming pool showdown particularly standout, but his film is alive with bold, striking imagery throughout, and boasts an intimacy not usually associated with the horror genre.
Let The Right One In is that rare breed of horror film nowadays – scary, imaginative and boldly inventive, as well as hugely emotionally involving. It puts the current fixation on gore and remakes to shame and deserves to be recognized as the instant classic it so obviously is.
In Swedish, with subtitles
Running time: 114mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: August , 2009