Movie Review: Let the Right One In
By Josh Spiegel
January 28, 2009
What a shame it is that more people aren't going to see, or aren't going to be able to see, the Swedish-language vampire film Let The Right One In, a truly shocking and profoundly disturbing story that transcends its genre and, like a recent foreign fantasy, Pan's Labyrinth, surprises at every turn, frequently turning its plot in gruesome and strange ways. No, instead, people have already flocked to Twilight, a movie whose makers decided to completely trash the myth of the vampire to begin with, by eliminating all the hang-ups that come with being a bloodsucker. Some people will avoid the subtitles, and others will simply not be able to find this film anywhere near where they live.
For those people, search this film out on DVD the day it comes out, because it will be worth every second. At turns violent and tender, Let The Right One In tells the story of Oskar, an ostracized 12-year-old in a run down suburb of Stockholm, Sweden in the early 1980s. Oskar is bullied at his school and near his home, retreating into himself with a love of knives and a dream of violent revenge against the trio of tormentors. One night, he's spied upon unleashing his anger out on a tree by a new tenant in his apartment building, Eli, a strange girl who excites and inflames Oskar.
What's shocking isn't how much Oskar likes her, it's that he continues to have these feelings even after he finds out that she's a vampire. Oskar, with his bullied lifestyle and divorced and distant parents, is an interesting yet wholly realistic character, but Eli, who's originally accompanied by Hakan, a middle-aged man whose job is to kill people so his young charge may survive, is truly fascinating for all the questions that her character's mere existence raises, even if we're never sure of the answers, such as exactly how long she's been 12-years-old.
Eli and Oskar grow as friends and Oskar still loves this girl, even after he sees what she's capable of. Of course, by this point, we've seen lots of evidence regarding exactly what Eli is capable of, from climbing up buildings and trees to inciting a subtle passion in Hakan to sucking the blood of the other tenants in the apartment building. It's this knowledge that adds to the thrill of Let The Right One In, a movie where we are given far more knowledge about the events that transpire than the main character. It's that knowledge that lends a heavy amount of eerie chilliness and suspense to the second half, heightened by the cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema and the steady direction of Tomas Alfredson. Lengthy passages, including a sunlit sequence at an ice rink and subplots involving the fatal consequences Eli has on the people she doesn't even kill, are fluidly perfect and haunting, filled with images that will stay with even the not-so-easily-scared.
Yet there are even depths to these characters that aren't plumbed in this adaptation of the 2004 novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also wrote the screenplay). How long has Eli been alive? How long has she had Hakan at her side, a man who, while dedicated to his duty, seems to make more mistakes in his murders of Swedish locals? Moreover, how many more men have been at Eli's side before Hakan? How long will it be until Oskar is Eli's new murderer? We see the beginnings of this transformation at the end, as Eli begs Oskar to be her helpmate for a while, to kill for necessity instead of perverse pleasure. What is the meaning of Eli's scar? As unanswered as these and many other questions are, it adds to the fascination this film affords the viewer.
Though most vampire movies are specifically interested in bloodshed and lots of it, this movie doesn't feel the need to simply give its audience the grotesque gore it expects. Yes, there is blood here, but Alfredson makes us sympathize enough with Oskar and Eli's predicament that, when the climactic scene in a local pool finally comes, a scene we've been expecting for a while, not only is there an incredible amount of suspense, but we're rooting for Oskar's bullies to be dispatched of. We're rooting for Oskar and Eli to make out like bandits.
Apparently, in only one year, there will be an English-language remake of Let The Right One In, and I can only imagine how quickly the blood will spatter, heads will roll, and the ideas fueling this story will be shoved aside. To be fair, the film's director is Matt Reeves, who directed Cloverfield, which was not a gory film, but it's hard to imagine a film studio wanting to make an American vampire movie that takes the idea of being a vampire seriously. If more people are encouraged to see this film, though, as opposed to what will likely be a bastardized American version, more the better, because this really is one of the best films of 2008 or 2009, however you look at it.