Let the Right One In
October 24, 2008
John Ajvide Lindqvist
Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar
Lina Leandersson as Eli
Per Ragnar as Håkan
Karin Bergquist as Yvonne
Patrik Rydmark as Conny
By James “Crypticpsych” Lasome
Oskar (Hedebrant) is a 12-year-old boy continually picked on by bullies. When he’s alone, he imagines himself fighting back and making them feel his torment. One night, he notices new people have moved in next door. A few nights later, while hanging around the courtyard of his apartment complex, a strange pale girl appears as if out of nowhere. The girl, Eli (Leandersson), lives with an older man named Håkan (Ragnar), but she claims he isn’t her father. She initially is reluctant to befriend Oskar but gradually warms up to him, becoming his closest friend and biggest supporter of his desire to fight back against the other children.
Meanwhile, a murder victim is found hanging upside-down from a tree with some of his blood drained from his body. Another man is brutally attacked and killed while walking home from a bar. A witness brings his friends to see only to discover the body is gone, but a little blood still remains. As some in the town begin to suspect the new arrivals, Oskar discovers that there may be a darker side to his new friend. How will he react when he discovers his friend’s greatest secret, and will their friendship survive the sacrifices they both must make?
Much has been made of the lack of respect horror and related subgenres get from mainstream film critics and general award shows. True, critics will LIKE horror movies and say so, but they have a tendency to qualify their praise by saying they are good “for a horror film” and almost never include them on their “best of” lists. Even when they do give a film the respect it deserves, it never seems to win or even be nominated for many awards outside of film festivals or genre award shows like the Saturns or Rondos. Sometimes, though, they get it right (like earlier this year with Black Swan). Let the Right One In (aka Låt den rätte komma in) is another example of this: a Swedish vampire film that made more than one critic’s top 10 list of 2008 (sometimes topping them) and was nominated for numerous awards in and out of genre.
First and foremost, somewhat ironically given the general complaint about the far more famous vampire franchise that premiered a few weeks later, the acting of our two leads in Let the Right One In is phenomenal creating a believable relationship between the two and accurately conveying the realities of adolescence and friendship. Hedebrant plays Oskar with a strange meekness that never seems to fully hide his desire for revenge. The viewer feels his anger and annoyance with the bullies, and, while they may not agree with his response to them, they do still feel a degree of pleasure at Oskar’s attempt to come out on top. However, he also has a great playful dimension in his scenes with Eli, adding character depth.
Leandersson, on the other hand, never really comes off as stereotypically feminine or weak. Instead, she has a degree of confidence, particularly seen in some scenes where she goes into Oskar’s flat and vice-versa. For this reason, her friendship with Oskar in Let the Right One Inmakes sense as her stronger qualities compliment his fears and weaknesses and bring out his inner strength and backbone. In addition, the duo seems to have some degree of “love” (platonic or otherwise) for each other that never really comes across as creepy or unrealistic. Both of their performances combine to give a believable glimpse into the world of young adults that makes the more fantastic elements of the story that much more effective.
Those supernatural, vampirism-related elements of the story are almost all well-handled. First, the film’s wintry, bleak setting helps lend an automatic air of tension and dread to even calmer scenes (such as the great initial meetings between Oskar and Eli). When the scene contains disturbing visuals and actually is dark (both physically and in feel), the wintry isolation only compounds the dread and counterbalances the slightly more easygoing friendship scenes. The way those two different feelings interplay is never more apparent than a scene in which Oskar refuses to actually invite Eli in and asks her why he has to. I won’t spoil it, but the way in which that scene switches from a playfulness to one of the most deeply chilling visuals in the movie is amazing.
There are a few issues with the film, though. A minor gripe is that the adults in Let the Right One In are sometimes a little TOO blissfully unaware of what’s going on around them between Oskar and the bullies. Also, I understand why a subplot involving a “turned” woman is in the movie (and enjoy the climactic visual of that sequence). I do think, however, that it still feels a bit misplaced, though, and includes one of the least effective visuals in the movie involving a slew of cats.
Both of those issues, however, take very little away from the legitimately engaging storyline of Let the Right One In. It’s one thing to create a vampire movie. It’s quite another to make a vampire movie that, at the same time, is a human drama and a brilliantly executed coming-of-age story. The effectiveness of the vision of adolescence seen in Let the Right One In should make it timeless and relevant for years to come.