Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the Big Deal?
Let The Right One In (known as 'Låt den rätte komma in' in its native Swedish) is a romantic horror film released in 2008, and it is adapted from the book of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, the film depicts the budding friendship between a troubled young boy and a mysterious girl who recently moved in next door, a girl with unimaginable secrets. The film stars Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, both of whom make their feature film debuts, alongside Per Ragnar and Peter Carlberg. Produced in collaboration with Lindqvist, Alfredson's film toned down some of the novel's more horrific aspects to focus on the relationship between the two central characters as well as the darker side of humanity. The film earned almost universal praise from critics both at home and abroad with reviewers praising the young cast, cinematography, direction and screenplay. Earning just $11.2 million worldwide, the film was still successful enough to inspire a Hollywood remake in 2010 - Let Me In - and brought international recognition to Alfredson.
What's It About?
Twelve-year-old Oskar is a troubled individual, currently living with his mother in the bleak, snow-laden suburb of Blackeberg in 1982. With his alcoholic father living elsewhere, Oskar spends his free-time alone collecting newspaper clippings about various murders and practising how to stab his bullies in school in an act of revenge he's too scared to actually follow through on. In fact, the only thing that doesn't seem to bother him are the unsolved murders of local people apparently drained of blood but the threat means he rarely ventures out beyond the playground outside his apartment. It's there where he meets Eli, a strange young girl who is initially dismissive of his friendship but who gradually forms a bond with Oskar, even going so far as learning Morse code to communicate with him via tapping their bedroom walls.
However, Eli is not all that she seems. She has only recently moved in next door to Oskar and lives alone with a much older man, Håkan who certainly appreciates his privacy, boarding the windows up with cardboard and newspapers. Håkan is also the one responsible for the killings, ambushing strangers on the street with a powerful anaesthetic before harvesting their blood and killing them. After being disturbed by a dog-walker during his latest murder, Eli is then compelled to attack a local man walking home at night. Despite the attack being witnessed, Eli escapes into the night while a friend of the victim, Lacke, decides to seek justice for himself.
What's to Like?
With the sheer number of vampire films out there, it takes something brave to shake the formula up and stand out. Let The Right One In is a very brave film indeed - for large parts of it, it actually feels more like a coming-of-age story albeit one with a dark and bleak atmosphere. With thick blankets of snow everywhere and long scenes with minimal dialogue, the film doesn't do much for alleviating the stereotypes surrounding Scandinavian cinema. But what it does do is reinvigorate an increasingly stagnant sub-genre, combining a detailed and realistic look at vampiric lore with a genuinely touching romance between two odd-ball characters finding each other. But this is no Twilight, thankfully - the film is both unsettling and scary at times, although only a horror newbie would call the film 'horror'.
In its own way, the film illustrates that ordinary people can be just as frightening as the blood-sucking undead. As Oskar, Hedebrant is captivating as the lonely boy verging on becoming another schoolboy descending into madness and violence due to the world around him. He may be sympathetic but he is a difficult character to identify with, as is Leandersson's enigmatic heroine. She's clearly supernatural in nature and when she gives in to the bloodlust, bestial noises and ruthless aggression hint at the evil lurking beneath. The two young actors are first-class and ably supported by the chilling presence of Ragnar as Eli's murderous accomplice.
What really stands out is that despite feeling like a low budget indie, the film still manages some occasionally impressive CG such as the facial scarring seen on one character or the horde of cats reacting to the presence of evil before them. But such scenes are in the minority - on the whole, the film has a detached and impassive direction by Alfredson that gives the story a plausibility that makes me even more fearsome. I also liked the feeling that this run-down part of Stockholm in the Eighties was so devoid of life that the undead could easily pass through without many people noticing. For me, this film is one of the essential vampire films anyone interested in such things should watch. And yet, for all the blood letting and dismemberment, the film works just as well as an old-fashioned date movie for couples in the right mind-set. It shouldn't work on paper but in reality, it does. In fact, I'm trying to acquire a copy of the book for me to now read and personally, that's a sign that a film has really worked.
- It wasn't until later on in the film's production that it was decided to replace Leandersson's voice with another as it was felt that her natural voice was too delicate and feminine for the role. Elif Ceylan was then cast as her voice was considered more androgynous and threatening. Ceylan was even recorded eating melon and sausages to accurately get the sound right of Eli drinking blood.
- The film's title (as well as that of the book) comes from a 1992 song by English singer Morrissey, 'Let The Right One Slip In'. This references the fact that according to myth, vampires can only enter a premises if they are invited in which is something depicted in the film.
- Casting the roles of Oskar and Eli took about a year as open casting calls were held all over Sweden. Hedebrant auditioned for his part after the filmmakers visited his school while Leandersson applied via an online advertisement looking for a 12-year-old boy or girl "good at running". Alfredson described the casting process as the hardest part of making the film.
What's Not to Like?
There's no escaping the fact that Let The Right One In is pretty niche stuff. A foreign-language, vampire romance film isn't likely to be high on many people's list of Must See cinema but that would be doing this film a grave disservice. Like many Scandinavian film and TV, the film has a cold and unforgiving feel to it - think of things like the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo trilogy and you'll know what I'm talking about. There isn't much in the way of light relief in the film beyond the occasional oblique reference to Eli's true nature ("I'm twelve. But I've been twelve for a long time").
The film takes a while to get going, only inputting some pace in the final third as the locals begin to get increasingly suspicious. Up until that point, the film is largely building up the atmosphere at a suitably glacial pace - the various subplots involving Oskar's tormentors at school and the grieving friends of Eli's first victim, not to mention the sudden dropping of the investigation into Håkan's killings, aren't given enough screen time so the film's decision to focus on Oskar and Eli's relationship makes the film feel lighter than it actually is. Veteran horror fans or gore hounds may be disappointed by this but for me, it made the moments of horror within the film far more effective.
Should I Watch It?
Let The Right One In requires no permission from me to enter my viewing space. Its quirky blend of vampire folklore, Scandie-noir and the pains of first love are quite unlike anything else and gives the vampire genre a gentle but forceful shove in the right direction. It's a more intelligent and restrained version of a traditional horror film, relying on characterisation and story-telling instead of cheap jump scares and relentless bloodshed. As vampiric romances go, this is much more palatable than any Stephenie Meyer adaptation.
Great For: Goth couples, date movies, people tired of the same old vampire film formula
Not So Great For: fans of slasher films, subtitle strugglers, the unimaginative viewer
What Else Should I Watch?
Perhaps unusually for a Hollywood remake for a foreign language film, Let Me In is actually held in relatively high regard compared to the original. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz, the film divided opinion between remaining true to the original film and sticking too closely to it but most agree that the film is a respectable addition to the vampire genre, aided by strong performances from the two young leads. If you are sick of films getting vampires 'wrong' then another alternative can be found in the critically acclaimed form of 2014's A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a black-and-white Persian-language film depicting a vampire stalking the residents of a ghost-town. It's just as niche as this film but almost certainly worth a look if you're fed up with stuff like Van Helsing, Dracula Untold or the family friendly Hotel Transylvania series of animated comedies.
Horror films can come in sorts of shapes and styles, from the grisly body-horror of films like The Thing and Videodrome to more psychological torture like The Shining to the ever-reliable horror exports from Japan such as Ringu (later remade, less successfully, as The Ring in the US). Personally, my favourite kind of horror films rely more on suggestion rather than bloody violence - after all, the imagination can conjure visions far more frightening than the most skilled filmmaker. Films in this mould include the surprisingly restrained The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the truly disturbing Audition... don't say I didn't warn you!
Erik, Oskar's father
Yvonne, Oskar's mother
John Ajvide Lindqvist*
Release Date (UK)
10th April, 2009
Drama, Fantasy, Horror, Romance
© 2022 Benjamin Cox