Let The Right One In Review

Published 6 years ago by , Updated March 10th, 2009 at 9:00 pm,

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.

let the right one in eli Let The Right One In Review
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.

let the right one in Let The Right One In Review
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).

Our Rating:

5 out of 5

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  1. Couldn’t Agree with you more, saw it this weekend..Awesome

  2. Hmmm, never even heard of this film, and I am into vampire-lore as well. It’s a shame it’s not playing in the DC area….yet. Thanks, Kofi; I’ll be looking for it.

  3. “The American remake is scheduled for a 2010 release.”

    The scariest sentence of all.

  4. American version of this = gag me.

    I’m looking forward to seeing this when it arrives on DVD.

    Great review, Kofi.


  5. Sounds creepy
    Might see it though.

  6. This movie starts playing here in San Francisco @ the Bridge tomorrow. i can’t wait to see it!

  7. I just watched this movie based on all the recommendations and glowing reviews. It is without a doubt one of the most boring movies of any kind I’ve seen this year.

    Nuanced, haunting, chilling are all just euphamisms for BORING that are used by reviewers and movie snogs to sound like they’re somehow above the trappings of “traditional entertainment.” I submit that the only reasons anyone likes this movie are its overly long, has subtitles so they feel like they’re doing something intellectual, and its so boring that suddenly their mind starts racing to find meaning where there is none. They CONVINCE themselves that they MUST be missing something if they don’t like it and therefore start to proclaim its AWESOME and everyone that sees it for the crap that it is, “just doesn’t get it.”

  8. @Thrusting

    Well to each his own. Here at Screen Rant most of us HATED Transformers while most people seemed to love it.

    Maybe you’ll enjoy Twilight.


  9. Personally, I think this is one of the classiest horror movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve read a lot of vampire fiction from different eras, and this film harkens back to such classics as “Carmilla” in the way it’s tale unfolds.
    For those looking for standard horror fare, beware: this is an art film. It takes it’s time, is very understated and is not going to hit you over the head with obvious emotional beats, a bombastic score or explicit gore. It is not an action movie, but rather a character driven film with a slowly mounting sense of dread. Patient viewers will be rewarded with lots of atmosphere, subtext and moral ambiguity.
    Definitely one of the most elegant vampire films made and a treat for sophisticated tastes.

  10. I just saw the film last night and am haunted by the implications for both lead characters. What is so striking to me about the narrative is that it implies the story has already happened before, and we see the end and the beginning of the central love story. It makes the film’s tragic inevitability resonate long after it ends. Far from boring, this is a rare and beautiful movie about the intersection between dependence and love that makes monstrous demands on everyone involved. The devil is definitely in the details and how you interpret them. For me, it’s a heart-shattering film that made me wish for an end to the metaphysical trap of immortality for Eli and everyone she touches. This film restores the existential horror of the vampire’s condition to the genre, something it’s been lacking for decades.

  11. Great review. It’s my favourite film of 2008 so far, and while it sits on my shelf beside 2 Nosferatu’s and a Vampyr, I enjoyed this film much more than any of those.

  12. Great review, possibly the best film I saw all year.

    I think its unfortunate there is going to be an american remake. This film was near perfect.

  13. I saw this movie and am dying to know what was the message tapped out at the end. Anyone KNOW. I’m sure we have guesses but, I would like to know for certain.

  14. Oh, and one more thing. Regarding the brief nudity, I am not quite certain but it appeared that the “girl” was sexless. Am I correct or did I see it wrong? I saw a scar I believe but nothing else.

  15. David Smith — the message was “puss” in swedish which means “kiss”. We only hear the last couple of letters from Eli, but the whole response from Oskar. Your second question — Eli is not a girl, but a eunuch (and Eli says she’s not a girl).

  16. Thanks John for the Information. Were you able to pick out the Morse Code, or did you find that information somewhere else. In any event my thanks.

    Does anyone have an opinion on what was the point of Eli being a Eunuch or perhaps why? It appeared that the love affair between the two was verging on being sexual, but obviously it could only be one sided unless Eli had more work done, at least in any sense that I understand.

  17. David Smith – wikipedia told me the morse code was for “kiss”, but since the film was in swedish I replayed it over a few times jotting down the dots and dashes, then worked out the letters from that. Swedish has three words for “kiss” (kyssa, kyss, puss) so I was on the lookout for one of those.

    I also read the book – a great novel and quite an expanded story compared to the movie. This is too small a space to do justice to an explanation why Eli had been neutered, but it was as a result of abuse suffered by Eli/Elias hundreds of years prior, and was the cause of Elias becoming a vampire in the first place. I think Eli developed an androgynous character thereafter.

  18. Wow awesome research skills! You win! Thanks John. FYI I’m on my way to pick up the book today I hear its really good in its own way…

  19. Great work John. I am going to look in to getting the book like the earlier poster. I still have questions that a reading could answer.

    Dave in NC

  20. I just watched it in Anchorage and I loved it. A brilliant film. It does cause one to do emotional somersaults. Seriously.

  21. [quote]Let The Right One In deserves every amount of praise it’s earned: it sets new standards for what a vampire movie should be[/quote]

    I agree completely. Infact I feel this movie achieved what the movie 30 Days of Night was attempting to.

    Aside from one scene that I felt didn’t mesh well with Eli’s character (The part where Eli runs after Oskar after he lets her borrow the rubix cube didn’t match with Eli’s personality.) the movie is in it’s own catagory and the first of it’s kind. Perfection all around. Should be a crime to even think about remaking it.

  22. its* +D

  23. didn’t screenrant allready report on this movie??

    i saw it a while back sometime last year in october?

    but yeah it was great can’t wait to have it on dvd

  24. Kofi, I’ve heard a lot of great things about this film and am interested. HOWEVER, I am NOT at all interested in the whole vampire goth crap. I really don’t find anything alluring or romantic about the whole vampire thing. Do you think I will still like this movie?

  25. sounds good want to check it out. I will say it’s sad to see how much hatred for all things American seems to run through this site.

  26. Daniel, I think they are just learning from the past with movies like Quarantine and stuff like that. Not completely unjustified. But I do disagree with them that it’s because it’s an AMERICAN remake. ANY time a movie is remade by a different country than its origin, it sucks. So when a great American movie is remade in another country, it sucks just as much. So it’s less to do with it being an American remake than it has to do with it being a remake [period].

    But anyway, you shouldn’t complain, this site is MUCH less anti-American than most other movie websites, trust me. I used to go to a few movie blog websites regularly, but I’ve found the writers and regular visitors in some of those other places so repulsive, this is the only site I regularly visit anymore.

  27. If you liked the movie, you will love the book. Seriously, both deserve 5 out of 5… amazing stuff.

  28. @almanza

    Yes, it’s an old review but I bumped it up because the DVD is coming out this week.

    @Daniel F

    “I will say it’s sad to see how much hatred for all things American seems to run through this site.”

    Uh, what in the heck are you talking about?