Raising the stakes…
Dark, intelligent and deeply affecting, Swedish thriller Let the Right One In is not just one of the greatest vampire movies ever made; it’s one of the greatest films ever made, period. It may have a pair of 12-year-old kids at its heart, but it expresses sweeping, universal themes of identity, isolation and intolerance with both style and substance.
Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a quite, desperately pale child and an obvious target for the school bullies. Living with his mother and with no friends to call his own, Oskar amuses himself by playing alone in the playground of his apartment block. One day he is joined by Eli (Lina Leandersson), a dark, slight girl of his own age, who tells him she has moved into the flat next to his. They soon strike up a deep friendship that gives Oskar’s life some meaning but, as Eli only comes out at night, performs amazing physical feats and will only eat blood, Oskar comes to realise that his new pal may very well be a vampire.
There have been many films that have dealt with vampirism in an ultra-real way, showing the agonising torment and human fallout of becoming a creature of the night; Near Dark and The Lost Boys being obvious examples. But Let the Right One In is head and shoulders about the rest in its gritty portrayal of Eli’s everyday life. Indeed, a simple scene in which she weeps on the shoulder of her latest victim is devastating in its impact, and it’s message – that she is driven by an uncontrollable animal instinct that she understands is wrong and that she kills only to survive – is clear.
And despite her super-human strength, Eli is as emotionally vulnerable as Oskar, as desperate as he to make a connection so that she may feel accepted for who she is. And, as Eli hides her true self from Oskar until she gains his absolute trust, so we recognise that even monsters have reason to be afraid. The understanding between Eli and Oskar drives the film, and young actors Hedebrant and Leandersson are so naturalistic, assured and compelling in their roles that it’s difficult to believe they are both newcomers to the world of film.
Although the focus of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s story (which he adapted from his own novel) is firmly on the fundamentally innocent relationship between Oskar and Eli – made even more profound given the pains the pair must endure while apart from each other – this is a horror film in the truest sense of the word. Not only because of the shadowy atmosphere and gory special effects, which are expertly handled by director Tomas Alfredson to compliment rather than detract from the narrative, but also because of the depth and resonance of recognizable human suffering contained within it.
Yet, despite its dark themes, by its end Let the Right One In strikes a surprisingly uplifting chord as a positive affirmation of the power of true friendship. Beautifully made and exquisitely realised by all involved, this is a remarkable movie that redefines horror film-making and deserves to reach as wide an audience as possible. 5 stars
Sadly for such an incredible film, there’s just a few deleted scenes and a solid commentary from director Alfredson and writer Lindqvist. 2 stars
Stars Kare Hedebrant, Linea Leandersson
Director Tomas Alfredson
Distributor Momentum Home Entertainment
Format DVD & Blu-ray
Released August 3