Sweden, 1981: a cold, concrete Stockholm suburb, eerily and icily shot, with the backdrop of the Cold War constantly intruding. Oskar, a friendless and bullied 12-year-old boy befriends a mysterious young girl, Eli, whose arrival coincides with a pair of horrific murders.
At first, she declares they cannot be friends and Oskar soon discovers why: Eli is a vampire. She’s been twelve years old ‘for some time’. But as the attacks and deaths continue, friendship wins over horror and fear.
The title loses a little in translation, but effectively evokes the folklore that a vampire can only enter your home if invited. Unlike most popular fang-fiction, Let the Right One In maintains a low-key, minimal exposition approach to its’ vampire ‘heroine.’ In a masterly balance of genre elements with the teen ‘first-love’ story, you fully understand Oskar’s attraction to Eli alongside the breakdown of relations with his divorced parents. Under-cut at every point, event the usually tender scene of a boy wooing a girl outside a sweet shop is complicated by Eli’s inability to eat.
It’s a relationship of inequality. Eli is an immortal child-woman with a hunger that can only be sated by murder. We suspect her ‘father’ Hakan, who procures her victims, is likely a previous child friend who’s been with her for decades. Can a friendship with Oskar ever lead to anything but tragedy for both of them? Encouraged by Eli to fight back against the bullies, the repercussions lead to a hideous escalation of violence. The fragility of Eli’s existence is exposed when Hakan is caught by the police and the friends of a drunk she has killed resolve to track her down.
Let the Right One In is a movie from a strong tradition. I had little idea until recently that three of Scandinavia’s greatest artists, the Swedish playwright August Strindberg, his friend the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch and the Danish director Carl Dreyer all created art based on or about vampires: Munch’s second famous painting Vampyr, Dreyer’s horror film Vampyr and Strindbergh’s line of vampiric heroines.
Written for the screen by John Ajvide Lindqvist, from his own novel, this is tense, alienating material, low on Gothic and shocking on blood and violence – without gratuitously jumping the ratings to an R/18. Eli is the most ‘real’ screen vampire in years, the visual and make-up effects are simple and effective, including the most realistically agile vampire ever and spontaneous combustion. Each scene gives us something new even after ninety years of vampires from Nosferatu to Twilight (fans of that series come see how a real drama should be done). Starkly shot in simple settings – Eli’s bare apartment, the playground, the paths and underpasses of the modern housing
estate – there is nothing to distract from the interplay of characters. It is also a touching story of relationships amidst the horror. Fans of Pan’s Labyrinth, Kronos, Thirty Days of Night (a Swedish tribute film, if anything) will adore this. RC
[I have yet to catch up with the American remake starring a favourite of ours, Chloe Moretz]
Let the Right One In (Lat Den Ratte Komma In)
Cert (UK): 15
Runtime: 114 mins
Genre: Drama, Horror, Art House & International
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writer: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Released: Apr 10, 2009 Wide
Distributor: Magnet/Magnolia Pictures
Cast: Henrik Dahl, Kare Hedebrant, Karin Bergquist, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Peter Carlberg