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. Ken J,

    No goth vampire crap in this film, bud. It ain’t Twilight. I don’t go for that goth vamp stuff. Emo vamp either.

  2. @kofi

    lol, distinction noted. I’ll probably end up renting this one. Always curious when a horror flick gets high critical ratings…

  3. Are you seriously asking what i’m talking about? Multiple people saying “OMG America touching this film how terrible.” One of them being you even. To me it is like saying America can’t possibly produce films as good as films from other countries.

  4. @ Daniel,

    In case you haven’t heard, Conservative pro-America is pretty much the thing on this site.

    I think what people are saying is that in some cases, American remakes of foreign films can be a disaster. A few examples:

    Point of No Return
    The Grudge
    The Grudge 2
    (Some people would argue) The Ring
    The Ring 2
    The Eye
    Dark Water
    One Missed Call
    Blow Out

    Here’s how seldom American remakes of foreign films turn out better than the original:

    The Departed
    (Some would argue) The Ring

    See the difference? That’s all they’re saying.

  5. Kofi, another really recent example of an American remake being worse than its foreign counterpart would be Quarantine.

    But I think it needs to be made clear that the thing that makes these remakes bad is NOT the fact that it’s American. I HOPE nobody’s intended statement was that. I read it as them saying that remakes by a different country in general are pretty bad, which I would have to agree. Examples escape my mind at the moment, but I do remember there have been several American movies that have been remade by other countries and they were downright horrible…

  6. I don’t think The Departed is as good as Infernal Affairs – it takes itself way too seriously, every moment and gesture is precious. I like Infernal Affairs much better.

  7. Wow I didn’t even know The Departed was a remake at all.

    So far all the movies I see on there as remakes well kind of sucked as originals as well. You may disagree, but aside from the two I haven’t seen the original ones from other countries sucked just as bad as the remakes.

  8. @Daniel F

    People talking about not wanting an American remake of ONE movie is not “hatred for all things American seems to run[ing] through this site.”

    As Kofi pointed out, if anything Screen Rant slants Conservative and pro-America in both posts and comments from visitors overall.

    Your comment seemed to me to be stating that the writers here slam American movies every other day.


  9. Really Vic, the DVD is out this week?
    This film is absolutely great, it is art! Do you know of any special features on the release?
    I hear that the remake is going to be helmed by the director of Cloverfield, eh, I would say wrong choice. Definately wrong choice! If you are going to do an amercian remake, I would say Alex Proyas for the directing job!

  10. @SK47

    Kofi said it comes out this week, I haven’t double checked that but since he loved the movie so much I figured he would know.


  11. SK47,

    DVD hits shelves (or Netflix) tomorrow, March 10, 2009.

  12. Thanks guys, I just checked on amazon, nothing in the way of special features, hurm…but it is also a Blu-Ray release! The winter atmosphere would look incredible!
    Matt Reeves, thats the name of the fool who is attempting to remake this!

  13. The term ‘american remake’ is more of an exasperating one simply as they tend to be done for easy money and lose all that worked in the originals.

    I’d definitely add the Vanishing to that list.
    Personally, wouldn’t say Departed or the Ring are better than Infernal Affairs or Ringu. Especially the latter.

    I’d say the Italian Job remake was better than the original. Apart from the end bit, the original isn’t that good.

    I’d also add that the British remake of the Mean Machine (Longest Yard) was poor compared to the original. But then so was the other remake.

  14. A couple things:

    Reeves’ version is not going to be a “re-make”, but rather a separate adaptation of the book. He’s doing the script and direction for it, putting his spin on how he interpreted the book. Personally, I don’t see how any casting could touch this original. Nor the camera work and scoring. Oh, and the new working title sounds uhm… rather lame “Let Me In” takes away from the message of the plot. But who knows, it could turn out a good flick. One thing’s for sure, more people will hear about the original after it hits the theaters -whether that turns out a good or bad thing.

    What I’ve heard from the grapevine is the U.S. version will have deleted scenes, while the Swedish release has commentary instead. Swedes have confirmed the commentary, and even translated. As a few holding the U.S. version also confirm the deleted scenes. Some nice confirmations, and some new light shed as well. Hopefully an expanded edition will come out later, with both commentary and deleted scenes. Both extra material sounds like quality content, but not overly in-depth to shatter the film’s strengths.

  15. The director mentioned in several interviews he took about a year to cast the young leads. Then he spent time casting another actress to dub the female lead’s voice for the entire movie. That voice, even if you don’t understand Swedish, is an important part of her character.

    The DVD defaults to an English dub. The voice acting in the dub is very, very bad. Do yourself a favor and watch with Swedish dialog and English subtitles.

  16. @Daniel, usually when a movie is redubbed into another language it is done poorly. Look at Chinese movies with English dubbing. They are horrible. And on the flip side, look at American movies with Spanish or Chinese dubbing, OMG… Just keep everything in their native language please… lol

  17. Tonight i went and saw this film in a local movie theater and was impressed enough to seek out a website to post my comment on. I don’t think i’ve ever posted comments about movies before, or at least i don’t remember. It is that good :-) Anyhow:
    it may sound absurd but this movie is not about vampires and bloodshed. it is about adolescent psychology.
    This movie has only 1 character – the boy. all other subjects and events are time-compressed concurrent outcomes of his possible choices in life. it is about the boy’s becoming deeply aware of own existence, his past, and the infinite paths of human experience. even the drawn-out length of the film has its intent: time is irrelevant. what may seem like a long time to the viewer is really only a fleeting moment of vivid imagination.
    Eli is of course his imaginary friend who is neither male nor female, but a strong-willed entity that eventually needs to “go away in order to survive”, i.e. for the child to develop into a young man. Not simply dissipate like a dream but dissolve constructively, hence becoming a part of his psyche. open minds learn from each other exponentially. through this experience he learns to understand emotions and to comprehend his rage and thirst for vengeance. the title is precisely about that – choose which thoughts you let into your mind. i gotta admit this is one of the deepest stories i’ve seen in my life. of course it may be my imagination running amok here and this explanation is simply coincidental to the filmmakers’ intent, a la mulholland drive craze.

  18. great times indeed. I was still high the next day from watching this movie :-) then on friday night i went to see MDC play live and it was awesome /,,/. tonite i went back for a second look at the movie but it was sold out! so i decided to write some more instead.

    continuing my opinion, I want to emphasize one crucial scene where eli first comes to oskar’s window. he lets this strange being into his domain, perhaps only to find out how “she” got to there. remember what the vampire told him – it is not a girl, for gender is irrelevant to a pure thought. nor is it a human being for it is as cold as the night. nor are they holding hands while in bed. –>

    Oskar’s “vision” (most of film’s story) starts and ends in the few moments when he is touching the cold window in his room. in the beginning it’s his way of saying “good night” to the world and feeling her almost majestic frozen presence through the glass. the night’s presence. i know this feeling exactly, because i’ve done this mini-ritual in my childhood. people from northern countries know what i’m writing about. can’t get that effect in most of USA – not cold enough. it is a small step towards perceiving the energy of the universe, though very effective.

    back to the movie – it is not the vampire at the window. his own mind looks at him through the window – “through the looking glass”. it is oskar’s first encounter with self-consciousness, he is seeing himself from the side. and this is the crucial step when he decides to open the window (his mind) to something new. he welcomes a part of his mind that was unknown until now into the light. it is commonly known that a sense of touch can transcend into a dream. in oskar’s “dream” he sees the flipside of the real world. it is not a cold vampire behind him in bed, it is the cold window in front. eli’s cold hand is not holding his left had – he is touching the cold glass with his right hand. a question arises what will change if he chooses to keep this new awareness (going steady) and he answers to himself – nothing yet. for now it is just a turning point towards a new learning process.
    “feed your head”.

  19. I loved the film “Let the Right one in” but I feel compelled to defend the remake.
    here are my reasons.
    1) A film should not be prejudge before it’s made, because of other films.

    2) The director of “let me in” is Matt Reeves, who has just made one of the scariest films ever made “Cloverfield”. “let the Right one in” is a great film but let’s face it. It was not that scary. So if the acting holds up and the emotional content is there we have a possibility of the making a great scary horror film.

    3) The Book ‘Let the right one in’ has so much content left out of the film that Matt Reeves can and should enchance and expand on the storyline.

    Don’t prejudge.

  20. Based on the history of foreign films remade as American versions, you’ll pardon us if we’re more than a bit skeptical about this one.



    Hopefully this dvd will be worth the free rental I used at blockbuster today.

    Cloverfield was scary?

  22. I finally got to see this film and I loved it. I recommend it to all fans of film.

  23. @ppnkof

    I’d have to say Infernal Affairs was better than The Departed. Mainly what killed it for me was the opening narrative that really had nothing to do with the film except to show Nicholson’s character was a turd.
    Well I willed myself through the film finally. Though the film was good it was just BORING to me. This seemed more like a drama/soft love story with a vampire more than horror. It used a standard formula of an outcast usually picked on who becomes or befriends a supernatural force to help him/her gain some sort of confidence to get back at their tormentors. The only thing that I saw that could be remotely haunting was the eyes and how the girl had a body crafted by Andre Toulon. Im not even sure why that scene was necessary….??? I guess the definition of horror has changed because most new horror movies fail at it. And sorry but there was not scary about Cloverfield, just a better version of Godzilla. I’d have to also disagree with the comment on the dvd box cover of best vampire movie ever, for me it’s The Lost Boys.

  24. It is a slow moving movie but I don’t see it as boring at all. It takes it’s time to actually let things develop without forcing them by hurrying us along from one action scene to the next. For me, this made it an excellent movie. I do agree that it is much more a drama than a horror movie.

    And that there was nothing even remotely scary about “Cloverfield.”

  25. Cloverfield not scary???
    Are you a horror fan?
    Are you alive or are you a member of the living dead?
    I don’t suppose you found the Blair Witch Project scary either?

  26. Cloverfield was an amazing movie, but not remotely scary. Also, Blair Witch was as scary as 28 Days Later, not scary at all.