Review: Let the Right One In

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Brilliant framing and unknown lead actors make
Let the Right One In
an uncannily authentic illustration of childhood angst in the guise of a vampire flick. That’s not to say that
Let the Right One In
is not primarily a vampire film. It is. But director Tomas Alfredson and screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist aim to do more with the vampire genre, as well as improve on the human-vampire romance conflict made popular in such great vehicles as
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
and Twilight.

Okay, Alfredson (and this film) is Swedish.
Buffy
and Robert Pattinson are likely not on his or Lindqvist’s radar. And it shows.
Let the Right One In
is without camp or spectacle. Violent scenes are expertly timed around achingly sweet and understated exchanges between bullied outsider Oskar (Kare Hadebrant) and the undead Eli (Lena Leandersson). Alfredson pulls a one-two punch by telling a vampire tale, with more than a satisfactory amount of blood, that is nonetheless an analog for the experience of the loss of innocence and emotional awakening that comes with adolescence. Â The appropriately awkward Hedebrant and stoic Leandersson were cast from a nationwide audition that took over a year to complete. The young

Brilliant framing and unknown lead actors make Let the Right One In an uncannily authentic illustration of childhood angst in the guise of a vampire flick. That’s not to say that Let the Right One In is not primarily a vampire film. It is. But director Tomas Alfredson and screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist aim to do more with the vampire genre, as well as improve on the human-vampire romance conflict made popular in such great vehicles as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight.

Okay, Alfredson (and this film) is Swedish. Buffy and Robert Pattinson are likely not on his or Lindqvist’s radar. And it shows. Let the Right One In is without camp or spectacle. Violent scenes are expertly timed around achingly sweet and understated exchanges between bullied outsider Oskar (Kare Hadebrant) and the undead Eli (Lena Leandersson). Alfredson pulls a one-two punch by telling a vampire tale, with more than a satisfactory amount of blood, that is nonetheless an analog for the experience of the loss of innocence and emotional awakening that comes with adolescence.  The appropriately awkward Hedebrant and stoic Leandersson were cast from a nationwide audition that took over a year to complete. The young actors’ complete lack of film credentials makes only a positive impact on the film, their naiveté effectively transferring to their characters.

The world that Alfredson has created is a floodlit snow globe, containing the apartment building and tenants where Oskar lives. Beyond this world is only pain and sadness in the form of determined bullies and neglectful fathers. When Eli and her caretaker move into Oskar’s apartment complex, the boy finally finds a friend, though a reluctant one at first. Though it is not revealed to Oskar for some time, the audience soon learns of Eli’s appetite for human blood, as her caretaker is made to go out on murderous midnight walks to obtain it for her.

Hakan (Per Ragnar) is clearly dedicated to Eli, though it is never elaborated just what the nature of their relationship is. This is one of many instances where Lindqvist opts for subtlety in his narrative rather than spelling it out, for instance, the word vampire is mentioned only once in the film, two thirds of the way through. Hakan is one of the most interesting characters in the film, deliberately impenetrable, so that with his early departure from the film, the audience can know only these last scenes of his life. At once enigmatic and pathetic, you can’t help but wonder how his life was spent up until those fateful moments and how he hooked up with a vampire girl.

Vampire lore is treated respectfully but with modern reserve in Let the Right One In. Alfredson draws more on the animal nature of vampires than a demonic one. Eli growls and pounces on her victims like a wild animal and her eyes flash in the dark like a feral cat. But a few well-placed shots trick the eye and make the viewer question the youthful appearance and demeanour of the young girl. Those who keep their eyes open will be rewarded with an image not unlike the demon face that intermittently pops up in The Exorcist.

The supporting cast of adult tenants and their beer-filled meetings offer a contrast to the juvenile subjects on the jungle gym. The two worlds remain separate until Eli kills a tenant out of desperation, leaving his friends scratching their heads about how he died and where the body went. Finally, Eli is caught in the act when she attacks the tenant Virginia (Ika Nord), and the outside world quickly becomes a threat to the innocent relationship Eli has so far shared with Oskar.

Scenes involving the character Virginia after the attack provide more insight into Lindqvist’s version of vampirism and make the second half of the film much livelier (though involving a lot more death). Still, the snail-paced beginning is necessary to the building of an insulated world and friendship whose limits are increasingly tested. 

Overall Score: 8.35 – Great. (Movies that score between 8.00 and 8.50 are great representations of their genre that everyone should see in theaters on opening night)

Alfredson does the slow build with finesse, putting us one step closer to the true nature of the vampire with every scene. Stellar cinematography and engaging leads make this one of the best vampire movies on record.