Let the Right One In Review
When reminiscing on the initial release of Let the Right One In, it's hard to think that it's already been two years since it made a name for itself as a newborn classic of the ever-popular vampire genre (thanks in some part to the Twilight fever that had developed in 2008). Part love story, part friendship tale and a strong dash of horror all blend and pour themselves into the central characters of Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson) to a remarkable effect.
Set in 1960s Switzerland at the height of winter (so very, very cold), Let the Right One In tells the story of lonely, regularly bullied 12-year-old Oskar, who spends his days and nights tracking violent crime across the country while fantasizing about his own revenge against his bullies. One night, while living out such a fantasy, he crosses paths with his new neighbor Eli, a young girl who appears to be 12 but does not speak or behave like one. She smells odd (like a corpse), goes into the winter cold with no shoes or jacket, lives in a boarded up apartment and only comes out at night. Slowly, Oskar begins to realize what Eli is as a series of murders and disappearances occur within their village, forcing Oskar to question his boundaries for friendship and putting Eli in a position to alter his life forever.
As “Right One In” is based on the novel of the same name, it already faced massive expectations, as most book-to-film adaptations do. One benefit the film has going for it is that original author John Ajvide Lindqvist wrote the screenplay for the film, so any changes or omissions (of which there are several) come with a seal of approval from the man who created the story to begin with. It is clear that the changes were made primarily to keep the relationship between Eli and Oskar the primary focus of the story, which works effectively. To fans of the original novel, the alterations do leave a sense of territory unexplored, especially in regards to the secondary characters; Eli's caretaker posing as her father being a huge example of this.
However, if you are going to make the movie almost entirely about these two characters, they had better be interesting to watch. Thankfully and remarkably, both the leads (who had never acted prior to the film) are exceptional to watch, notably Leandersson as Eli. Many adult actors are unable to give the proper sense of age, history and torture that comes with playing the vampire character (looking at you Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt), but Leandersson can only be described as hypnotic in her role. In Eli, we see a soul truly tortured by her fate, yet still willing to move on killing not for pleasure but survival. In a key sequence, where she “connects” with Oskar, a brief shot of Eli's eyes reveals a tired and haggard looking face, a result of who knows how many years of killing and moving. It resonates emotionally and would not be possible if Leandersson did not bring her A-game to the role.
As “Right One In” is rather quiet compared to other vampire films, the filmmakers put a very high premium of attention on the cinematography. From the opening shots of falling snow to snow covered trees and fields, the winter season is almost a character unto itself, representing (much like Eli) a certain form of life amongst the dead. It's barren, nearly desolate and uninviting, yet holds a form of beauty at the same time. As sound is used sparingly, it makes the film appear to be a moving photo exhibition from time to time.
When sound does come into play, it is used in the best sense for a horror film: sharp and fleeting. One sequence in particular stands out, as the audience witnesses Eli's first kill under an overpass. Kept at a distance, the audience can hear her breath is weak, her stomach growling. You know what's coming but still reel when she makes her attack, thanks in great part to the sound mixing of the sequence, one of several in the film that create a phenomenal atmosphere of suspense and horror.
If you have found yourself in a position where someone you knew has been heaping praise onto the film, know this now: the hype is true. Rarely has such a film, let alone a vampire film, come along that commands such a balance between romance, horror and friendship. The characters are far from two-dimensional, the direction is sharp and the finale will stay with you for some time after. Ultimately, Let the Right One In is flat-out fantastic and easily one of the best films to be released in recent memory, not only in the horror genre but in film overall.
Let the Right One In
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Starring: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson