- Let the Right One In (2008) movie review: Director Tomas Alfredson and adapter/author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s vampire story offers a refreshingly mature blend of character study, budding romance, and supernatural horror.
Let the Right One In movie review: Tomas Alfredson’s vampire tale features a riveting mix of psychological drama & supernatural horror
Directed by Tomas Alfredson from a screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist – based on his own 2004 novel – Let the Right One In / Låt den rätte komma in is not only one of the best entries in the vampire genre since Blade, Interview with a Vampire, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but also a subtle love story.
Whereas David Slade’s recent 30 Days of Night was mostly concerned with setting up great-looking scenes while paying little attention to plot development, Let the Right One In achieves the former while melding its visuals with narrative complexities anchored on the blossoming relationship between its two young protagonists, Oskar and Eli.
An ordinary 12-year-old boy living in the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is picked on by a trio of miscreant classmates. Performing double duties as both protagonist and antagonist, Eli (Lina Leandersson) is a vampire with a pre-adolescent look; she is attended to by a Blade-like “Familiar” named Håkan (Per Ragnar), a middle-aged man posing as Eli’s father to both outsiders and the curious.
When Oskar and Eli become friends, there are two moments that hint at Eli and Håkan’s true relationship – or perhaps their past one. The first moment takes place when Håkan is staring at Oskar and Eli in the snow-covered courtyard below, and the second when Håkan asks Eli not to see Oskar on a particular night.
It’s not fatherly concern the viewer is witnessing; it’s jealousy. Eli recognizes it as well when she touches Håkan’s face reassuringly after he makes his request.
Because of Eli’s actual advanced age, which is never divulged in the film (adding to the girl’s mystery), she’s more than likely been in many adverse situations before. Her wisdom, however, is not overtly depicted; it’s all in her body language and eye movements – like those of Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) in Interview with a Vampire and the demon-possessed Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair) in The Exorcist.
That’s just one of the details, both obvious and subtle, that make us realize Eli acts differently than a girl of her chronological age – in addition to remaining unaffected by inclement weather and reacting like many a supermodel after consuming food.
Much to appreciate
Besides its incisive narrative particulars, Let the Right One In’s chief assets are Kåre Hedebrant’s and Lina Leandersson’s performances, along with director Tomas Alfredson’s careful camera placement, Johan Söderqvist’s minimalist The Thing-like score, and the film’s exquisite feral-vampire sound effects.
While complemented by these and other sounds, many of the horror/vampire situations take place off-screen. The viewer sees only their aftermath, shown in graphic manner that fully makes up for our missing out on the actual deeds. Things get very messy in Let the Right One In, in no small part due to the breaking of a major vampire movie convention: Eli never bares her teeth or shows that she possesses fangs of any kind.
And then there is the aforementioned romance between Oskar and Eli, which might remind a few of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. Even more so than Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), Oskar and Eli are separated by a sizable age gap, having been brought together by circumstances almost beyond their control. Notably, unlike the events that plague their lives, theirs is a sweet, gentle courtship.
Horror movie for adults
Setting itself apart from most horror movies these days, Let the Right One In focuses not on blood, gore, or special effects, but on its characters and how they relate to one another. Examined broadly, this is the same direction Christopher Nolan’s new Batman franchise, especially The Dark Knight, has taken: More substance, less flash.
Indeed, Let the Right One In is a rare horror entry that chooses to explore the inner working of its characters instead of being content with rehashing the staples of the genre. As in Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, much of the storyline focuses on the relationship between the two leads and how they react to the conditions around them. As a result, the vampire angle is never allowed to overwhelm the “psychological” narrative.
For all the reasons listed in this commentary, Let the Right One In is undoubtedly one of the finest, most mature vampire movies to date.
Let the Right One In / Låt den rätte komma in (2008)
Director: Tomas Alfredson.
Screenplay: John Ajvide Lindqvist.
From Lindqvist’s 2004 novel.
Cast: Kåre Hedebrant. Lina Leandersson. Per Ragnar. Henrik Dahl. Karin Bergquist.
“Let the Right One In Movie (2008) Review: Gripping Horror” review text © Reginald Williams; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“Let the Right One In (2008) Movie Review” endnotes
Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson Let the Right One In movie images: Sandrew Metronome Distribution | Magnet Releasing.
“Let the Right One In Movie (2008) Review: Gripping Horror” last updated in November 2021.