Directed by Tomas Alfredson from a screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Låt den rätte komma in / Let the Right One In is not only a satisfying horror film from beginning to end – one of the best entries in the vampire genre since Blade, Interview with a Vampire, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula – but it’s also a subtle love story, which happens to add an intricate ingredient to the film’s memorability.
Where 30 Days of Night was more concerned with setting up great scenes comprised of well-crafted cinematography and miniscule plot development, Let the Right One In achieves the former while melding it with plot complexities and a crucial relationship that blossoms between the film’s protagonists. This approach makes the scenes more than just good-looking cinematographic accomplishments, for each visual element adds substance to the film’s overall narrative.
The story’s protagonist is Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), an ordinary 12-year-old boy living in the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg, who is being picked on by a trio of miscreant classmates. The other main character, who serves the dual role of antagonist and protagonist, is Eli (Lina Leandersson), a vampire with a pre-adolescent look. Eli is attended to by a Blade-like “Familiar” named Hakan (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 Hakan’s true relationship – or perhaps their past one. The first moment takes place when Hakan is staring at Eli and Oskar in the snow-covered courtyard below and the second when Hakan asks Eli not to see Oskar on a particular night. It’s not fatherly concern the viewer is witnessing; it’s jealously. Eli recognizes it as well when she touches Hakan’s face reassuringly after he makes his request. The feeling is only hinted at, but it’s there. Whether this is a replica of how their relationship is portrayed in author-screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel, or if their liaison has been muted in the film adaptation so as to avoid censorship problems is a point I must leave to readers of the book.
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 and is thus able to dispense some much needed advice to Oskar. Eli’s 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 Reagan MacNeil (Linda Blair) in The Exorcist. That is just one of the ways, both obvious and subtle, that Eli acts differently than a girl of her chronological age. Additionally, she remains unaffected by inclement weather and reacts as many supermodels would after consuming food.
Among the chief assets of Let the Right One In are Hedebrant’s and Leandersson’s performances, along with Johan Söderqvist’s minimalist The Thing-like score, Alfredson’s careful camera placement, and the film’s exquisite, feral-vampire sound effects. While complemented by these and other sounds, a large portion of the horror/vampire aspects of Let the Right One In happens off-screen. The viewer usually sees only their aftermath, which is shown in a 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. Oskar and Eli are both vastly different in (real) age as were Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and are brought together by situations almost out of their control. Unlike the events that take place in both of their lives, theirs is a gentle and sweet courtship.
Differentiating itself from many horror films released 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 the new Batman franchise, especially The Dark Knight, has taken: more substance, less flash.
Let the Right One In is the rare horror movie that explores its characters instead of dwelling on the staples of its genre. As in The Host, large segments of Let the Right One In are about the relationship between the protagonists and how they react to the circumstances surrounding them. The vampire horror in Let the Right One In is never allowed to overwhelm the narrative. For those reasons, we may be looking at one of the finest, most mature vampire films to date.
Låt den rätte komma in / Let the Right One In (2008). Director: Tomas Alfredson. Screenplay: John Ajvide Lindqvist, from his novel. Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Karin Bergquist.