AKA Låt den rätte komma in. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, 2008. Starring Kåre Hedebrandt, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Peter Carlberg, Ika Nord, Henrik Dahl, Karin Bergquist, Mikael Rahm, Karl-Robert Lindgren, Anders T. Peedu, Pale Olofsson.115 minutes. In Swedish, with English subtitles.
Twelve-year-old Oskar is having a bad time of things: he doesn’t get along much with his estranged parents, and he’s endlessly bullied at school. Things get a lot stranger when a vampire girl named Eli moves into the flat next door…
Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Let the Right One In is emphatically not “Twilight, only good” (or “Twilight, only [X quality]”). Judging entirely from the first movie, if Twilight were good, it would still not be anything like Let the Right One In. Twilight is, essentially, a romance novel-type story that just happens to feature vampires and werewolves. There is a love story at the heart of LTROI, but the two films are not part of the same tradition.
It’s become a bit of a cliché to say that it’s not a typical horror movie, and maybe not a horror movie at all. I’d vigorously disagree with the statement that it’s not a horror movie…but yeah, it does resemble the structure of the typical modern vampire movie about as much at it resembles Twilight. Eli spends none of her time wringing her hands and worrying about how to overcome her evil urges or getting her soul back.
So if these things aren’t what LTROI is about…then what is it actually about? I’m going to get back to something I wrote a few sentences ago, about LTROI definitely being a horror movie. It’s a horror movie that isn’t about the gore. I mean, yeah, there are a couple of notably gory scenes, but they’re not the main thrust of the movie. They’re just icing on the cake. What LTROI is really about are alienation and loneliness…themes that in many ways can be just as scary, if not scarier, than watching a man pour acid onto his own face.
Those themes are omnipresent in LTROI, even in the photography. In theory, the movie takes place in a suburb of Stockholm (Blackeberg, although I’m not sure this is actually referenced in the film). But director Tomas Alfredson does a masterful job of making it look like the absolute middle of nowhere. Especially in the dark—from the lighting, I gather that the courtyard of Oskar and Eli’s apartment building isn’t an exterior location but a set on a soundstage. (At the very least, I was strongly reminded of some of the “exterior” shots in Kubrick’s version of The Shining…many of which were filmed on a soundstage set.) The film is set in 1982, a period of time in which nobody knew that the Cold War was winding down. The significance of this is perhaps lost on American audiences, but I suspect that being so close to what used to be the Soviet Union, this time period might have certain associations for Swedish (and other Scandinavian) viewers.
It’s been a while since I’ve seen a horror movie that relied so much on atmosphere and pulled it off, but that doesn’t mean the other elements get short shrift. Screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist, adapting his own novel, has created a depiction of suburban life that looks credible and lived-in, and I never got the feeling that the characters existed solely for the convenience of the plot. Instead, they feel as if they have genuine histories and backstories (as opposed to contrived “mythologies”). The ending has gotten a bit of stick for being “predictable,” but I didn’t find it so much predictable as the logical extension of the storyline. The ending feels correct to me, the only way things could possibly resolve. If anything, a different, less “predictable” ending might have felt like a cheat.
Overall, the film is so well put together that I can only find a couple of things to criticize, and they feel like nitpicking. I feel that certain things in the story, such as Oskar’s “peeking” scene (if you’ve seen the film, you know the scene I’m talking about) and the time-frame in which the film takes place, could have been clarified a bit. But enough people have figured those things out on their own that I suspect it’s just me. About the most valid criticism I have is that the CGI during the cat attack is wretched.
Overall, LTROI isn’t perfect, but it’s damn near. The word is “masterpiece.”
Moment of Zen
“Thank you again for another evening steeped in merriment and friendship!”