Short Version: Let The Right One In is one of the greatest vampire movies ever made; a worthy Oscar contender for International Film of the Year.
Screen Rant Reviews Let The Right One In
I just had to see Swedish director Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of the John Ajvide Lindqvist novel, Let The Right One In, as soon as it hit American theaters this past Friday. There had been such fervent buzz about how good this film was that I, as a fanatical follower of the vampire genre, could not ignore the opportunity to see if the film lived up to the hype.
Well, having seen the film and already scheduled a second viewing, I can tell you that Let The Right One In deserves every amount of praise it’s earned: it sets new standards for what a vampire movie should be, and how horror movies should effect us.
The film mirrors the novel’s plot about a twelve year old boy named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant). Oskar is not like a lot of his classmates: his pale, awkward looks mark him as an outsider; he has morose hobbies, such as keeping a scrap book of newspaper clippings about the grisly murders happening just outside his small town. His parents are divorced, both mother and father can barely be called adults, and poor Oskar is tossed back and forth between them like the hot potato neither one wants to hold too long. No surprise then that in his private moments, Oskar indulges in violent fantasies about murdering the bullies who torment him every day in school.
Life changes the night that Oskar first meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a twelve year-old girl who has moved in next door to him in his large apartment complex. Oskar immediately senses that he’s found a kindred spirit: Eli is also a loner, she smells “funny,” she walks around in the snow with no shoes and no coat, she’s never even seen a Rubix Cube (the film is set in the 80′s, mind you), and oddly enough, she only comes out to play at night. Eli quickly takes a liking to oddball Oskar and the two form the kind of friendship/puppy-love bond only ‘tweeners share.
Admist all this young love, a string of ritual slayings begin to occur in Oskar’s small town–right around the time Eli and her “father” move in. The victims are found hoisted up by their feet, their throats slashed, blood drained. It’s no great SPOILER to tell you that the murders are indeed being perpetrated by Eli’s “father.” However, when one of blood-hunts gets botched and Eli’s father has to make a terrible sacrifice (you have to see it to believe it) in order to protect his “daughter,” Eli is left alone, forced to hunt for her own blood supply. Having no other protector Eli turns to Oskar, her only friend, forcing the young boy to make a man’s choice about who he is going to be in a world of predators and prey.
Let The Right One In is a stunning achievement in terms of direction. Unlike so many American horror films, Let The Right One In doesn’t bash you over the head with obvious metaphors or hackneyed plots that barely hold together beyond getting you from murder scene A, to murder scene B. Tomas Alfredson crafts the film like a series of short stories, rather than a whole novel. What I mean by that statement is that Alfredson meticulously packs every scene with detail and nuanced implication, helping every moment to convey so much, while doing so little. Like any good short story, you could take any scene of Let The Right One In and have it stand alone as it’s own short film-and because every scene succeeds so well in telling it’s own story, the movie as a whole is able to present what, on the surface, seems like a straightforward narrative, yet taken in context with all implications surrounding it, the story becomes a complex, densly layered morality tale that resonates in a fundamental way with our emotional compasses. This is all accomplished using the bare minimum of cinematic tools: dialogue in the film is sparse, there is very little ambient music (basically the same eerie tune from the trailer playing out in full), and the stripped down format helps to give the gorgeous visuals extra room to breath–creative space that Alfredson works with a skillful hand only the most masterful directors posses.
Within the context of a horror film, the minimalist approach truly flourishes: before a word is even spoken we’re already deeply invested in Oskar. We sympathize with the pain of each and every hit the boy takes in the schoolyard, yet we can’t help but feel a deep-seeded anxiety whenever Oskar, alone at home, takes his favorite hunting knife out into the yard to fantasize about murdering the classmates who torment him. Twenty minutes into the film, Alfredson has us doing emotional somersaults about whether we’re watching the sufferings of a picked-upon nerd, or one of the Columbine killers (to put it in an American context) having the seeds of a murderer sewn by the abuses of his formative years. By minute twenty-one, when Eli first appears, the movie has achieved one of the near-impossible feats of telling a good vampire story: keeping the human drama elevated above the monster madness.
By keeping things emotionally grounded, and utilizing a “less implies more” approach, Alfredson corners us right where he wants us. Whenever there is a display of violence–be it human on human, or vampire on human–we feel it and it disturbs us. In this era of Hostel, where people can so often watch others get maimed and murdered while still wolfing down their popcorn a handful at a time, getting the audience to feel anything is a feat in and of itself. Let The Right One In forces you to grapple with the psychological weight and violent nature of the survival instinct–and because that weight is being placed on children who are barley at the threshold of adolescence, the gravity of their choices resonates in a profound way that adults (i.e. those no longer “innocent”) could never convey.
Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) In Let The Right One In
Thank Hedebrant and Leandersson for bringing lead characters Oskar and Eli to life so vividly. I can’t imagine another pair of young actors playing these roles. Hedebrant breathes unique breath into what could have been a cliched character: the social misfit. In Hedebrant’s hands, Oskar’s every quirk and awkward glance work to make him a three-dimensional and relatable character. No matter what country you are from, or where you went to school, you knew a misfit kid who was just like Oskar, yet at the same time, not quite him. Leandersson, on the other hand, is a beautiful young actress who is bound for stardom, if she chooses to pursue it. In playing Eli, Leandersson has an ageless stare about her–one that makes you question whether Eli has been a vampire for five days, or five hundred years. To keep the monster grounded in humanity, Leandersson treats Eli’s vampirism like a communicable form of cancer, portraying Eli like the long-time patient of a cancer ward, who wants to be free to explore her adolescence, even if it costs the lives of those around her. This dual rendering of Eli, as both rabid predator and afflicted victim, is a major reason why the film’s climax (and a lot of the more nuanced plot points) works so plausibly. Hedebrant and Leandersson exhibit tremendous chemistry: their relationship is Shakespearean in scale: as complex as a middle-aged couple trying work through the turbulent circumstances of a breast cancer diagnosis; yet still as naive and innocent as that first adolescent crush we’ve all had. Remarkable work from these two young leads.
Let The Right One In is such a good film that after just one viewing I too share Tomas Alfredson’s anger over the American remake that is already underway. This film doesn’t need to be remade: it needs to be dissected, so that more American filmmakers can observe and understand the fact that it is subtlety and nuance that help films transcend their medium; horror filmmakers need to be reminded that good horror films in fact HORRIFY us by having bad things happen to fully-formed characters we’re actually rooting for. Stock victims and buckets of blood be damned.
Unfortunately, at the moment Let The Right One In is only playing in L.A. and NYC. No word yet on if it will get a wider release in forthcoming months (if it doesn’t, the DVD is due out March 10, 2009, so Netflix it now). The American remake is scheduled for a 2010 release. But don’t wait, see this film now, in its original form. You will so very happy that you took to the time to sink your teeth into it (the obligatory vampire pun).