Vampirism turns practical in "Let the Right One In"

by Eric Melin on January 10, 2009

in Print Reviews

Scene-Stealers reader Aaron Hale was nice enough to send in his capsule review of “Let the Right One In” (#4 on my Top 10 Movies of 2008), so let’s we’ll start with his comments before I chime in and we see what you all have to say. Here’s Aaron:

This is the year of vampires, starting with HBO’s “True Blood” to the insanely popular “Twilight,” to and now Sweden’s “Let The Right One In.” I haven’t seen “Twilight,” but I hated “True Blood” enough after the first episode to know that the whole season would suck (pun intended). “Let The Right One In” is a different story.

let the right one in oskar eliOskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a 12-year-old awkward kid who lives with his divorced mom in a snowy working-class suburb of Stockholm in 1980. The other kids at his school beat him up all the time and Oskar has fantasies of violent revenge. Then Eli (Lina Leandersson), a pale little-girl vampire who smells funny and only comes out at night, moves into the apartment next door, and she and Oskar hit it off. It’s good to have a bloodthirsty vampire on your side when the kids at school won’t leave you alone.

I really enjoyed this movie. It was cleverly written, beautifully shot, and perfectly cast and Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is visually stunning. I even felt cold watching the movie. Director Tomas Alfredson nails Oskar’s innocence and morbid fantasies perfectly, while showing a sad, little boy who longs for understanding from anyone, and finds it in a violent, lonely vampire.

At first I found myself wanting Oskar to run from Eli, but I soon fell in love with both of the children and wanted Oskar to get his revenge. There are lots of gory scenes and side characters who add to the film’s realness, and lead up to the final scene, which has been described as “one of the best endings in the history of cinema.” See this movie. It’s my projected Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film of 2008.

Me again:

let the right one in oskar knifeWhat struck me about “Let the Right One In” was its naturalism. Alfredson approaches this supernatural story as if there was nothing supernatural about it at all. Like the weather, it is cold and unforgiving. You can always see the breath of the inhabitants of this economically depressed suburb. Vast amounts of empty space take up the formalistic widescreen compositions and the camera virtually never moves.

Then there are the sounds: a heartbeat, sniffling, breathingall these things bring the audience closer to the characters and help make our experience theirs. When things turn violent, the horrifying sounds cue us in to what’s happening even though the someone’s back is turned or the gore is happening offscreen. Beacuse we’ve ben paying so much attention to the sounds, their effect is amplified here.

Because Alfredson plays down the fantastical elements of the story, the moments when something unusual rears its head are amplified two-fold. When Eli appears on the jungle gym in the freezing cold without a coat on, that’s weird. A static shot of a multi-story hospital building with a small figure racing up its side is amplified by the fact that if you don’t start looking for it right away, you’ll catch it only out if the corner of your eye. That’s weird.

What’s not weird are the quiet moments Oskar has to himself.  He is picked on at school. He talks to himself in his room the way he wants to talk back to his tormentors. He has fantasies of using his knife to take care of the bullies. With divorced parents who seem to be only there enough as they need to be, Eli is the only person who sees Oskar for who he is. When certain discoveries are made, everything changes.

let the right one inBeing a vampire in this film is a practicality. It’s an ugly thing, devoid of romance and sex (especially because of the vampire’s more-than-implied androgyny) and all things that attract people to the the programs Aaron mentioned above. What unites Oskar and Eli is a whole lot deeper than that. It’s a sense that the other has found someone to take care of them.

Another interesting part of the film’s construction is that it relies very little on dialogue. If it were a silent film, I’d imagine it would still work. Or if I watched it without Swedish subtitles. Body language and looks between characters tell us all we need to know of the kids’ longing.

I hasten to even refer to “Let the Right One In” as a horror movie at all. It certainly deconstructs the genre, keeping far away from at least as many tenets as it embraces. Even if you don’t enjoy horror or fantasy movies, give this one a try and let us know what you think below!

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jon Crawford January 12, 2009 at 10:23 am

*** Spoiler Alert! ***

Maybe this was obvious, but one suspicion I had after the film ended was that Eli had been through this whole thing before. I think the “dad” character in the beginning was actually a grown-up “boyfriend”; another Oskar who had been “taking care” of the never-aging Eli his whole life. So when the movie ended with the two children riding off together, I thought we were essentially seeing the restart of the cycle that we had seen the tail end of at the beginning of the film.

Agree?

Reply

2 Jon Crawford January 12, 2009 at 10:23 am

*** Spoiler Alert! ***

Maybe this was obvious, but one suspicion I had after the film ended was that Eli had been through this whole thing before. I think the “dad” character in the beginning was actually a grown-up “boyfriend”; another Oskar who had been “taking care” of the never-aging Eli his whole life. So when the movie ended with the two children riding off together, I thought we were essentially seeing the restart of the cycle that we had seen the tail end of at the beginning of the film.

Agree?

Reply

3 Eric Melin January 12, 2009 at 11:40 am

Yes– and I love the fact that we can draw this conclusion for ourselves and it is not necessarily spelled out for us.

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4 Eric Melin January 12, 2009 at 11:40 am

Yes– and I love the fact that we can draw this conclusion for ourselves and it is not necessarily spelled out for us.

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5 RCM January 13, 2009 at 5:58 pm

This is possibly my favorite film of 08. Everything about it worked me.

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6 RCM January 13, 2009 at 5:58 pm

This is possibly my favorite film of 08. Everything about it worked me.

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7 Troy January 14, 2009 at 9:32 am

I never thought about that Jon. I would have to agree with you on that. I was in hopes she would turn him, though it might have lost some some of its orginal vibe. Either way AWESOME!!

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8 Troy January 14, 2009 at 9:32 am

I never thought about that Jon. I would have to agree with you on that. I was in hopes she would turn him, though it might have lost some some of its orginal vibe. Either way AWESOME!!

Reply

9 Eric Melin January 14, 2009 at 9:33 am

And you know what? It’s been hard for me to convince people to go see it! You’d think that with vampires being “so hot right now” as Mugatu would say, that it’d be easy, but I can’t figure it out. Lack of ad campaign?

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10 Eric Melin January 14, 2009 at 9:33 am

And you know what? It’s been hard for me to convince people to go see it! You’d think that with vampires being “so hot right now” as Mugatu would say, that it’d be easy, but I can’t figure it out. Lack of ad campaign?

Reply

11 Boyd January 17, 2009 at 4:12 pm

I agree with Jon, although I did not pick this up until a friend mentioned it. She believed Eli was searching for a replacement for her aging “father”, and Oskar fit the bill. Knowing that, it has made me want to see the film again just to watch it from that perspective.

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12 Boyd January 17, 2009 at 4:12 pm

I agree with Jon, although I did not pick this up until a friend mentioned it. She believed Eli was searching for a replacement for her aging “father”, and Oskar fit the bill. Knowing that, it has made me want to see the film again just to watch it from that perspective.

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13 Amanda January 19, 2009 at 9:49 am

The book is somewhat different than the movie and Håkan is actually helping Eli because he is a pedophile and in love with him which is not mentioned in the movie. In the book, Eli did not return his feelings and was basically using him for his survival. Håkan is jealous of Oskar and the victims that Eli attacks because they get to be closer to him than he does.

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14 Amanda January 19, 2009 at 9:49 am

The book is somewhat different than the movie and Håkan is actually helping Eli because he is a pedophile and in love with him which is not mentioned in the movie. In the book, Eli did not return his feelings and was basically using him for his survival. Håkan is jealous of Oskar and the victims that Eli attacks because they get to be closer to him than he does.

Reply

15 NRG January 25, 2009 at 8:02 pm

The ending is one of the best parts of the movie; it is straightforward, yet is open to various interpretations, each of which is equally valid. For myself, being an unabashed die-hard romantic, I hope that in a short time of leaving with Eli Oskar will let her turn him and the two of them can be together always. And working together, they will almost surely come up with better strategies for survival; they might decide to make bullies of all sorts a permanent item on their “menu.” :)

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16 NRG January 25, 2009 at 8:02 pm

The ending is one of the best parts of the movie; it is straightforward, yet is open to various interpretations, each of which is equally valid. For myself, being an unabashed die-hard romantic, I hope that in a short time of leaving with Eli Oskar will let her turn him and the two of them can be together always. And working together, they will almost surely come up with better strategies for survival; they might decide to make bullies of all sorts a permanent item on their “menu.” :)

Reply

17 firewalker March 27, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I agree with Oskar being Hakan replacement But now knowing that Hakan was a peophile it changes.

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18 firewalker March 27, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I agree with Oskar being Hakan replacement But now knowing that Hakan was a peophile it changes.

Reply

19 sdervito April 1, 2009 at 2:21 am

Well my friend you are wrong becouse if you will read the book you will understend that the old man Hackan was not Elis old boyfriend but a sick man who loved kids and he was a teacher and eli meet him when he was 45 years old a accepted to help her.The fact is and still remains and none get it is why Eli say I^m not a girl..The answer is that he/she is in fact o boy and 220 years old but i would love to see the scene that eli becomes from a boy to a no gentre being but the movie is not for Eli but the life of Oscar and how a angel/demon saves him from his hell.Read the book and you will understend everything exept the ending the author doesn´t mension what it´s going to be the conclusion is ours.

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20 sdervito April 1, 2009 at 2:21 am

Well my friend you are wrong becouse if you will read the book you will understend that the old man Hackan was not Elis old boyfriend but a sick man who loved kids and he was a teacher and eli meet him when he was 45 years old a accepted to help her.The fact is and still remains and none get it is why Eli say I^m not a girl..The answer is that he/she is in fact o boy and 220 years old but i would love to see the scene that eli becomes from a boy to a no gentre being but the movie is not for Eli but the life of Oscar and how a angel/demon saves him from his hell.Read the book and you will understend everything exept the ending the author doesn´t mension what it´s going to be the conclusion is ours.

Reply

21 Eric Melin April 1, 2009 at 8:36 am

Movies and books are two divergent art forms, and just because one said one thing doesn’t mean the other was saying the exact same thing. In the movie, what is clear is that it is unclear.

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22 Eric Melin April 1, 2009 at 8:36 am

Movies and books are two divergent art forms, and just because one said one thing doesn’t mean the other was saying the exact same thing. In the movie, what is clear is that it is unclear.

Reply

23 Jon Crawford April 1, 2009 at 9:51 am

Eric Melin +1

“Read the book to understand the movie” seems wrong for several reasons.

Reply

24 Jon Crawford April 1, 2009 at 9:51 am

Eric Melin +1

“Read the book to understand the movie” seems wrong for several reasons.

Reply

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