December 12, 2008

REVIEW: Let the Right One In (A)

I’ve never liked horror movies. If they don’t freak me out (and it doesn’t take much), they just don’t seem worth my time and money. What’s the point of watching The Strangers, for example? Most people would say to have some laughs, but the comedy’s always been lost on me. I do like the occasional fright from the comfort of a movie theater seat - something to get the adrenaline flowing. But if I’m looking for that fix, I usually prefer the suspense of something like No Country for Old Men (not a horror movie but more gripping than most) to the gore of Saw V or The Midnight Meat Train.

In a roundabout way, this brings me to Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In (
Låt den rätte komma in), a Swedish vampire film that won awards at both the Toronto and Tribeca film festivals, and also received glowing praise from Craig Kennedy and Marilyn Ferdinand in recent months. It’s been described as everything from a coming-of-age drama to a teen romance to, well, a horror movie - but of a different breed. Based on the novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also adapted the screenplay), it tells the story of Oskar, a 12 year-old boy living with his mother in a dense apartment complex on the outskirts of Stockholm. Like many bullied pre-teens whose parents have split up, Oskar spends most of his time alone, keeping private hobbies and fantasizing about seeking vengeance against the kids who torment him at school.

It’s so easy to overlook characters like Oskar as stock characters in movies and novels, but having been a middle school teacher for a few years I can say with confidence that there are millions of Oskars suffering through their awkward adolescent years. Unfortunately, most of them don’t have a friend like Eli, the young girl who moves into the apartment next to Oskar’s. Eli smells funny, doesn’t wear a jacket out in the wintry night, and can’t eat the candy Oskar shares with her. She’s a vampire, which doesn’t explain why she can complete a Rubik’s Cube overnight, but does explain her horrifying attacks on the local townspeople in a desperate attempt to stay alive on their blood. She doesn’t live alone, but the man who cares for her (by woefully hunting humans to bring blood back for her) isn’t necessarily her father.

Additional subplots and the final resolution are best experienced while watching Let the Right One In, so I won’t say more about the story other than that it’s a completely engaging 114 minutes of film, and as ironic as it sounds, it’s a story that makes vampires much more human than I ever considered. Much of this realization can be attributed to the fascinating dialogue between Oskar and Eli, and it’s easy to see why Alfredson wanted to bring Lindqvist’s book to life.

Oskar and Eli don’t talk to each other as human to vampire, but adolescent to adolescent. Lighter films would include a montage with a pop song playing over scenes of the pair throwing snowballs and sharing a hot chocolate, but the lack of such fluff actually deepens the bond between Oskar and Eli. They’re not “play friends”, but soulmates from different worlds, who depend on each other not for entertainment but for survival. Innocent and tender, their relationship is ultimately optimistic, even though the last scene foreshadows tragic circumstances on the horizon.

Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is just looking for a friend who understands him...

Words like "moving" and "touching" have been used a lot in the few descriptions I've read about Let the Right One In. There are many opportunities to access these heartfelt emotions during the movie, but I didn’t leave as inspired so much as I left impressed. I was almost shocked, actually, for having seen such a brilliant story told in such an outstanding fashion. As Oskar and Eli, respectively, Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson are young stars in the making, and so is director Alfredson, who convinced me that some horror films can offer a lot more than haunting images. It was snowing, dark, and strangely quiet as I walked back to my apartment from the theater, and I kept a keen eye out for possible vampires lurking in alleys – not out of fear, but fascination.

Writing - 10
Acting - 9
Production - 9
Emotional Impact - 10
Music - 5
Social Significance - 4

Total: 47/50= 94% = A


  1. Wow, Daniel. I'm so happy you liked this film. I wasn't sure you would. And I really liked your review. A lot has been written abou the film, but you managed yet again to say something new and engaging.

  2. One of my favorite films of the year, bar none. It's a shame Sweden didn't see fit to submit it as the Oscar entry this year.

  3. Also...Oskar REALLY looks like Damien from the original "Omen" in that picture.

  4. Thank you, Marilyn. I was curious about it, but like I said way back when, yours is a trusted recommendation. I just wasn't sure HOW it was going to be different from other movies.

    Do you know what Sweden ended up submitting, Matthew? That really is too bad - how could they not consider this their best entry?

    This will come as shock in light of the first sentence of my review, but I haven't seen The Omen. Doesn't matter - Oskar did have a bit of a creepy look for the first 15 minutes of this movie.

  5. Some movie called "Everlasting Moments."

    They would have stood a much better chance with this I think...of course knowing the foreign language branch, they probably wouldn't go for a "horror" film.

  6. I am on this bandwagon, so much so that it may end up in my Top Ten. I really love this film,(and wrote a review of it as well, as did Matthew Lucas) and your descriptive and passionate account, shall we say "adds to the literature" of this deliciously brooding and intoxicating film. As always, your finest work is exhibited for the films that really affect you.

  7. Matthew - Everlasting Moments is a very fine film from a director I love, Jan Troell, a contemporary of Ingmar Bergman. It is very deserving of its place as Sweden's official entry.

    This has been an exceptional year for Swedish films that have made it to America. I asked Troell at the screening of Everlasting Moments what was happening in the Swedish film industry right now that accounted for this vitality. All he said was that we only see the good stuff, that most of the 25 films a year Sweden produces isn't very good. I'm not sure believe him, though.

  8. Thanks, Sam. I need to catch up on everyone's reviews of this still (even Craig's and Marilyn's), as I was way behind in seeing it.

    Never heard of Everlasting Moments, but considering I took Marilyn's word on Let the Right One In, I can only believe her that it's also a solid movie.

    Makes me think of Jar City (Iceland) and Reprise (Norway) - the Scandinavians are on a roll.

  9. Excellent review, Daniel. One of your very best.

    Even today I'm still grappling with myself over this. I feel like I should love it when I don't. There are things about it I love greatly, however. I suspect it will continue to grow on me, slowly but surely. And that is fine with me.

  10. Thanks, Alexander. It's funny, I wasn't even sure I was going to review this - I was immediately impressed, but like you say, something about it grows on you.

  11. I do not think it is eligible for nomination this year.

    "The eligibility period for the Foreign Language Film category differs from that required for most other categories: the awards year defined for the Foreign Language Film category usually begins and ends before the ordinary awards year, which corresponds to an exact calendar year. For the 80th Academy Awards, for instance, the release deadline for the Foreign Language Film category has been set on September 30, 2007, whereas the qualifying run for most other categories extends till December 31, 2007."

    Not 100% sure about 2008, but I think it is the same as for 2007.

    And although it's been on the festival circuit since January or something, it did not have it's theatrical release in Sweden until 24 October 2008.

  12. A-ha, thank you for that analysis, anonymous. Add it to the list of unfortunate Oscar eligibility rules. You're probably right about 2008, so this once missed the boat by a matter of weeks, which is really too bad.

  13. Sounds like a loophole to me! According to the official rules, we could presume that the eligibility for next year would be movies released between Oct. 1, 2008, and Sept. 30, 2009. We'll call our campaign: "Let the Right One In!"

  14. I'm not sure that's the case, because it has to be submitted by its country, and a US release is not required for nomination, either before or after.

    Which explains why "Katyn" is still MIA.

  15. The "thread that wouldn't die." And it's great that this certain Top Ten film is still under discussion. It's receiving teh accolades it deserves from the critic's groups too. It's exhilarating and your review stands as one of your finest achievements in writing. Just stopped by to say hello, and to toast LET THE RIGHT ONE IN on it's recent wins.

  16. But doesn't explain why I skipped my only opportunity to see Katyn at the MSPIFF last spring. For that matter I'm still sore about never going to see Mongol. It was here for like a month and a half.

    Cheers to that, Sam - long live the critics' awards!

  17. I just wanted to let you know Dan that I escorted Allan Fish and my three oldest children to NYC'S Angelika last night to see the 8:00 P.M. showing of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, which is still doing buffo business there. At this time of the year I tend to see the films I love over and over. (I saw ATONEMENT eight times last year in the theatre! LOL)
    Anyway, Allan did love it, and the kids were rather mesmerized.

  18. That's great, Sam - and that Allan was able to see it as well! I can imagine it would be weird for your teenage kids to see it. They'll never look at their classmates the same way again...

  19. I loved "Let the Right One In." (In fact, I just posted my own review of the film on my movie blog.

    I too was struck by how tender and touching the movie was -- especially given its potentially gruesome storyline and, as you point out, the equal potential for sappy sentimentality.

    I found "Let the Right One In" to be well-crafted and intelligently written, with appropriately natural performances from its young cast.

  20. Thanks for visiting again, Sarah. Sounds like this is the most unlikely crowd-pleaser of the year. I'm glad I made time to check it out.

  21. "One of my favorite films of the year, bar none."
    @Matthew Lucas. Mine too Matthew. It's actually my Number 1 film for 2008.

    "I really love this film,(and wrote a review of it as well,"
    @Sam Juliano. As did I. I loved the film. I've watched it three times already.

    "hall we say "adds to the literature" of this deliciously brooding and intoxicating film."
    I agree. Nice review.

    "Even today I'm still grappling with myself over this."
    @ Alexander Coleman. That is surprising. I would have thought you would have automatically loved an intelligent vampire film.

    "I too was struck by how tender and touching the movie was -- especially given its potentially gruesome storyline and, as you point out, the equal potential for sappy sentimentality."
    @ Sarah. I feel the same way about about the film. Oskar and Eli's relationship begins and matures organically, not because the screenwriter wanted it to like in Pearl Harbor.

    Let the Right One In for next years Oscars? Sweet.

  22. Wow, I never would have considered Pearl Harbor in relation to this movie. In fact I'd rather not consider it at all...(shudder)...

    Well from my understanding of the eligibility dates, I believe this could work for next year. But of course Sweden would actually have to make an official submission, and I have no idea how those work.

  23. If next years nominations are lackluster, Let the Right One In will look all the more resplendent.

  24. Ain't that the truth.

    But the Academy is notorious for excluding worthy nominees (even recently 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, The Band's Visit, Gomorrah), so I won't hold my breath...

  25. What would be fantastic is if Let the Right One In won for best foreign film and Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson both walk on stage together, now two years older, and except the award with the director.

  26. That would be pretty cool...but creepy...

  27. Aloha from Hawaii! Iam in the US Navy, and I finally got my hands on the DVD of Let the Right One In, after hearing rave reviews from friends. I must say I was skeptical with this being another vampire movie, and released about the same time as Twilight. Hands down, Let the Right One In wins an all accounts. What is so engaging about foreign films is that they are not part of the Hollywood, California movie machine that churns out junk cookie-cutter productions. This movie had me locked in the moment I felt Oskar's torment from the bullies. His relationship with Eli was very poignant, but troubling in the end. They could not have cast anyone else for these two roles. Beautiful casting, and a well-written story.

    As with most foreign films, often times the english dubbing is terrible, and it loses alot of the spirit of the great acting abilities from the cast. After five minutes into the movie, I switched it back to Swedish, and turned on the english subtitles, and the movie made a world of difference.

  28. Mahalo, anonymous - thanks for visiting and thanks for your service. Hawaii...must be nice to be somewhere where the temp is above 40 degrees in April...

    I didn't see Twilight but I'm not surprised this one got you on a deeper level. It will be interesting to see how the American remake of Let the Right One In succeeds at doing the same. Those details like the behavior and nature of the bullies, as you mention, are extremely important.

    I caught wind of the murmurs and complaints about the subtitles for the DVD - apparently even the English subtitles were poorly done or something, I don't know. I have a really hard time watching dubbed movies anyway, because beyond losing the real meat of the writing as it was meant to be, the characters also don't sound they way they should. So it's bad all around.

  29. Remember what I said back in Feb about them accepting an award together:

  30. Wow, they look pretty different as older teens there! Thanks.


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