An unforgettable take on the vampire romance, Let The Right One In will sink its teeth into your imagination . . . a poignant coming-of-age love story which just happens to be dripping in blood.
In a snow-bleached, gloomy middle-class suburb of Stockholm, 12-year old Oskar lives with his mother in a gritty apartment complex where everybody keeps to themselves and where, at night, he plays out his revenge fantasies against the bullies at school who torment him on a daily basis. He often stands at his darkened window, hands pressed against the cold glass, peering out into the night as if waiting or imploring something or someone to enter his lonely world. When a car arrives one chilly night containing a man and a young girl, it seems no one notices but him, even when they move in to the vacant apartment next door. And when Oskar meets the strange girl, named Eli, its clear she’s unlike anyone or anything he’s ever encountered before. Oskar is drawn to this waif who, slight as she is, has a singular presence and uncompromising toughness that would be unnerving to most but to a him is like a transfusion of hope that he, too, can absorb some of her courage as his own.
But something sinister and evil is afoot in the neighborhood. Grisly killings, bloodlettings, and disturbing reports of a mysterious child who seems to be at the center of the mayhem. When Oskar confronts Eli and discovers that she is, in fact, a vampire, his nonchalant reaction reflects the much deeper connection these two creatures have with each other, forged from their differences rather than their similarities. Whereas Oskar is fair to the point of translucent (he seems almost bloodless in fact), Eli is dark and feral. Oskar is so passive and receding (like a lamb to slaughter at the utter mercy of his bully tormenters) that his complete lack of social connections make him seem almost autistic. Eli seems to have a deeply tormented inner life, but she doesn’t have the luxury of self-absorption. If she wants to survive, she must feed, with all the gruesomeness that suggests.
With Eli by his side, Oskar finds the courage to fight for himself. And for Eli, Oskar signals her very real hope for survival. In a profound way, they each become the agents of salvation for each other. At its core, Let The Right One In is a love story, although the love is young and innocent. In fact, they each come across as particularly androgynous, with Oskar’s physical essence bordering on the feminine, and early in the film it’s suggested that Eli isn’t even a girl (watch closely when Oskar sneaks a peek at her as she puts on one of his mother’s dresses.)
It’s just a matter of time before Oskar and Eli realize that the world is closing in on them, and that things can’t stay as they are, but not before one of the most disturbing climaxes ever filmed, whose violence is brilliantly conveyed and whose moral exactitude hits its mark.
Let The Right One In is that rare horror movie that transcends its own genre, becoming so much more than the sum of its parts. It started out as a best-selling novel in Sweden by John Ajvide Lindqvist, achieving such notoriety that it quickly became adapted for the screen by director, Tomas Alfredson, with the screenplay written by Lindqvist himself. The film became such a sensation, winning countless awards at film festivals around the globe, that it was planned to be the Swedish submission for Best Foreign Film in 2008 to the Academy Awards but replaced at the last minute with another film. Not long after, it was optioned for an American remake by Cloverfield director, Matt Reeves, and the finished product, called Let Me In, also was received with wide critical acclaim.
In fact, Let The Right One In was also made into a stage production, first launched in Scotland and the West End, and now finishing a short run at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, NY to gauge whether a Broadway audience or beyond may have a taste for blood.
So what makes Let The Right One In so compelling? For me, it’s because this is a film of stark contrasts which, combined, create such a delirious allure that you can’t take your eyes off the screen. Aside from the magic in casting these two complete unknowns (Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli) without whose chemistry nothing else would work, the film is a visually stunning palette, with austere and often sublimely beautiful backdrops which seem to tell their own story. Understandably, the color red takes on particular significance in a story about vampires and in the hands of Cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema, you’ll see flashes of red which manifest in almost subliminal ways, whether its the red of victims’ own blood, the gash on Oskar’s cheek, the father’s sweater which Oskar smells before donning, his mother’s dress which is worn by Eli, or even the emergency tow truck brought to the ice to almost comically pluck a frozen corpse from the skating pond. Each instance of red signals a particular jolt to your emotions. It’s an interesting exercise to look back at movies in which the color red has symbolic power: The Shining, Don’t Look Now, and Schindler’s List come to mind.
Finally, I especially admired the soundtrack by Johan Söderqvist which captures that frisson between dark and light, love and death, innocence and evil, and underneath it all a romance, pure and simple.
If you’re wondering about the title, Let The Right One In, it has to do with centuries of Vampire literature and lore, having to do with the inability of a vampire to cross your threshold unless invited in. It has had many interpretations, but in this case, my recommendation is that you indeed, open the door.
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YouTube Trailer Courtesy of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqkWmUiTm3U
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