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.
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