Let’s all agree to forget the abysmal debacle that was Twilight. That movie comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray next week and there will be plenty of time to talk (rant) about that one then. For now, let’s relish in some of the better things that have been happening inside the latter-day vampire genre. We’ve had some good’uns, sure–movies like Shadow of the Vampire, From Dusk Till Dawn, and Interview with the Vampire (also known by its sitcom name, “My Two Gay Vampire Dads”). And I’m a hell of a fan of HBO’s True Blood series. But, friends, you’ve never seen anything like this one.
Let the Right One In is a vampire film that finds its horror in the strangest places. There’s an odd humanistic sweetness in its savagery, but more compelling than that is the savagery within its sweetness. On the surface it all seems so simple, so tender in its odd Swedish vampire movie sort of way. But it’s by no means your average boy-meets-girl, boy-discovers-girl-is-a-vampire, boy-and-girl-form-unlikely-bond kind of film. There’s so much more going on here than just that, and the final product, while strangely touching, is also a despairing, disturbing, and haunting cinematic achievement.
The film tells the story of 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a lonely Swedish boy living in a suburb in Stokholm with his mother. He is certainly not a popular kid and is frequently bullied to some quite harsh extremes by a group of young punks in his class. When we first meet Oskar, he is brandishing a knife in the comfort of his own home, making taunts and threats heard by no one. He’s a meek, young kid with a thirst for revenge, but no backbone. He meets Eli, the young girl who just moved into the apartment next door with her father, Håkan (Per Ragnar), one night while exacting his fantasy revenge on a tree. Oskar takes an immediate liking to Eli, who resists his friendship at first. (Mild spoilers lurk ahead.)
But there is something sinister happening with Hakan and Eli. They have shut themselves away, sealing up the windows, and are rarely seen by anyone. One night, we watch as Håkan goes out, meets a young man in the woods, renders him unconscious, and hangs him by his feet from a tree, slashing his throat and collecting the blood.
When Håkan returns home, having forgotten the blood after his operation was thwarted mid-way by a nosy poodle, Eli erupts in a frustrated rage. She leaves the apartment and brutally kills a local man, jumping on him in the nighttime desolation, biting into his neck, and drinking his blood.
As news of these murders spread throughout a panicking community, the meetings between Oskar and Eli become more frequent. Eli encourages him to fight back against his bullies and Oskar takes her advice. The two grow very close, communicating through their shared wall in Morse code, and Oskar eventually discovers Eli’s secret: she’s a vampire. It’s really a sweet little film, at first glance. Oskar and Eli, two very lonely characters, are able to find companionship in each other, grow with each other, and share their most personal secrets. By the end of the film, they’ve both essentially gotten what they need.
But there’s something else going on here. The character of Håkan is an integral part to the story and more than necessary in understanding the underlying themes and ideas of the film as a whole. Who is he exactly and what is his relationship with Eli? Are we really supposed to believe he’s her father? We already know vampire mythology, which the film wisely never deigns to reiterate to us, so we’re pretty much certain that Eli isn’t really 12 years old.
And why is Eli so intent on bringing out Oskar’s more primal and violent impulses? All of these grey areas and unanswered questions create a sinister fuel that keeps the movie as fascinating and horrifying as it is tender and meaningful. It’s a rather appropriate sentiment for such an introspective horror film that all of its strongest relationships are ultimately formed by the universal bloodlust of all of its characters.
The movie’s sound design is key in capturing the subtle details of the landscape, the nuances of the young actors’ terrific performances, and the brutality cloaked in the darkness. We don’t see the blood flowing out of the throat of the young man on the tree but rather hear it pooling at the bottom of Håkan’s bucket. It’s a quiet, somber film, much of which occurs within the vast width of lingering shots. The photography is nothing short of gorgeous and paints the emptiness of the land in a disquieting and often brooding way.
Let the Right One In was directed by Tomas Alfredson, who I had never heard of until this film, but I have since learned that he is a director for a Swedish comedy group named Killingganget. It’s nice to see that his talents can stretch quite far and wide. I wouldn’t quite have expected that this dark-natured picture’s director came from a background in comedy, but thinking back a little bit, I guess it makes sense to a certain degree. He brings a dry mordant humor to much of this film but certainly never comes close to overwhelming the film in that mood. It’s a remarkably sad film more than anything else and, as a horror film, carries a weight that most dramas these days can’t even dream of.
The film was released this past Tuesday on DVD and Blu-Ray and the special features are a little lackluster. There are a few deleted scenes, including more bullying, a couple more scenes between Oskar and Eli, and a wisely-excised CG-vomitting scene. The thing about deleted scenes is usually, once you watch them, you tend to agree with their removal. There’s also a 7-minute “Behind the Scenes” featurette comprised mostly of underwhelming set footage and press-junket interviews with the director, and then there are photo and poster galleries. It’s also one of those annoying foreign film DVDs where the language track defaults to English, so if you aren’t a coward and you’d like to listen to the original language track and read properly-translated dialogue, then you’ll want to start out at the set-up menu.
But, even with a totally underwhelming DVD release, this is still something that, for the film alone, is entirely worth a purchase. It’s one of the most transgressive, unsettling, and stirring horror films in years and certainly it’s one of the best vampire films out there. So fork over that money of yours and “let the right one in” to your DVD or Blu-Ray collection. (That’s right. I said it. I have no shame. None at all.)
Buy Let the Right One In on DVD HERE.