The modern horror story can rightly claim to have its origins in the 19th century with the classic works of Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and lest we forget, the not so fictional “Jack the Ripper” slayings of London, England.
Set in 1982 in the world of the Rubik’s cube and the cold war, the Swedish film, “Let The Right One In,” is much more nuanced and complex than its simplistic snowy landscape at first suggests.
Directed by a relative unknown, Tomas Alfredson, and adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his own novel, this Scandinavian tale has more in common with Ingmar Bergman’s sensibilities as a filmmaker than the likes of more traditional horror film storytellers like Mario Bava or Dario Argento.
The story is set around Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a lonely 12-year-old boy who lives with his divorced mother in the Stockholm suburbs and is constantly tormented in the worst possible ways by bullies at his school. The arrival of a seemingly 12-year-old girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) and her supposed father at the apartment next door changes his life in ways he or the viewers could ever imagine.
The lead pair in their first film roles give performances which not only belie their young ages but also their tremendous maturity as actors. The two pale skinned preteens, Oskar, with his blonde locks and Eli, with her dark ones, find each other as only the loneliest of people can.
As a result, the evolving friendship between the two begins to feel more like an adult relationship, especially as Eli’s need to survive has deadly consequences for anyone living around her. He becomes her constant companion and protector of sorts when her guardian is caught trying to get her fresh blood. She in turn helps him to stand up to his tormenters with some horrific results.
The title of the film comes from a song of the former Smiths front man, Morrissey, the ultimate singer of fatalistic love songs. It also acknowledges the fact that a vampire has to be invited into a room and the results can be quite bloody.
Every so often, you have the good fortune to see a film that makes you believe in the magic of the cinema as it was meant to be. This Swedish film precisely manages to do just that and quite successfully, too. Alfredson does not let the gruesome acts of brutality overwhelm the basic sentiment of the movie, which is the coming together of two lonely and desperate people looking for some companionship and maybe hope.
While we can add all the superlatives to this film like poetic, intelligent, haunting, mesmerizing and terrifying, it seems there is no pleasing some people. Knowing that, this film may never appeal to say the fans of motion pictures like “Twilight.” It might be about preteens, but it is definitely not recommended for viewers that age.
The reason why is simple- it’s a much more character driven film, where the story is the real attraction- not the special effects or the star cast.
While vampire film fans can rightly claim that it ranks with F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” (1922) and Carl Dreyer’s “Vampyr” (1932) as one of its greatest ever, it would be doing it a great disservice to just describe it as an excellent horror film.
A more apt description for “Let the Right One In” might be a coming of age Swedish fairy tale about two lonely preteens who seem to have compassion for anyone but each other.
You wouldn’t expect a film about vampires to be touching or heartfelt, but “Let the Right In” absolutely is. That doesn’t mean it strays from the types of elements that make vampire films enjoyable though. As a matter of fact, it manages to combine love, loss, blood and guts into a stew of goodness that no movie fan should be without. Featuring excellent special effects and characters that steal your attention, “Let the Right One In” is a master work and is destined to influence the future of horror.
Simply put, putting “Twilight” to shame would be too easy. “Let the Right One In,” with its unknown cast and excellent direction, is arguably the best horror film of 2008.
-Patrick Hickey Jr.