Director: Tomas Alfredson
Screenplay: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Cast: Kåre Hedebrant (as Oskar); Lina Leandersson (as Eli); Per Ragnar (as Håkan); Henrik Dahl (as Erik); Karin Bergquist (as Yvonne)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #46
A film that was in dire need of being revisited, Let The Right One In is a melancholic film, another modern movie which takes vampire mythology and intertwines it with a deeply introspective drama, here about adolescence. Many will know the film; for those who don't, it's set in 1980s Sweden, where an adolescent male outcast called Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), living with his divorced mother, meets the girl that's moved in next door called Eli (Lina Leandersson), a vampire who he starts to fall in love with and encourages him to lash back at the bullies in his class. What's surprising revisiting it is how important the fact that it's a drama at its heart is, very much a character study of Oskar as someone completely disconnected from his parents, the mother unable to reach him despite moments of bonding, bullied at school and very much filled with an anger that is in severe danger of appearing externally. The drama is very much in the vein of quiet, thoughtful characterisation one that Ingmar Bergman set the tone for, only in a work that does openly embrace its genre tropes in how Eli's vampirism exists in the film, both her visceral need to feed but also how her elderly male aide Håkan (Per Ragnar) will gladly knock a person out chemically, tie them up and bleed them out, his growing inability to be competent endangering her existence and ability to sustain herself.
The vampire mythology is far more relied on in this narrative than most, willing to even evoke the lore of how a vampire has to be welcomed into a house to be able to enter it, seen in a very disturbing moment when this isn't done with the blood seeping from the body in vast quantities. What makes this interesting here is that the setting is completely removed from traditional gothic or even modern neo-gothic mood, in the cold and snow covered suburbia of Sweden of night-time streets and the corridors of Oskar's school, the introduction of classical folklore into this environment turning it into a modernist spin on the subject. That it's set in the eighties is a subtle aspect you can easily forget, only realised occasionally such as when Oskar and Eli bond over a Rubik's Cube; because its completely removed from the flashy sheen of The Lost Boys (1987), wood textures and lots of mutated colours, the result gives the period detail the sense that it looks like Sweden at the time and brings the vampire character into a new and fascinating environment.
In fact, far from Bergman, times within Let The Right One In, especially with a subplot where a man named Lacke (Peter Carlberg) struggling with his friend (unknown to him) becoming one of Eli's victims, evokes Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki in terms of its working class tone, only with a gloss that replaces his trademark down-to-earth aesthetic. This grounded nature allows for the more fantastic aspects to stand out more, few but striking as a result, such as a vampire scaling a hospital outer wall or an incident (while with obvious CGI) where its revealed cats with gladly attack a vampire violently when they appear in a room. The horror tropes are in the background of this story of two adolescents, one distinct as a vampire, the other a disconnected boy, but when they appear in the film the results can be violent, unexpected and nasty without becoming tasteless.
The fact the film has to be put on the shoulders of two young people in the central duo was a risk but one which succeeds, the awkward romance in each other found in Hedebrant and Leandersson as Oskar and Eli, difficult for Leandersson in particular having to play a world weary, adrift figure in gender neutral clothes who has been twelve for "a long time", a task to have succeeded in accomplishing in being an alien entity but one with interest in Oskar as a person she commits to fully. That her view of Oskar is up to debate past the ending, real love and friendship to him or the need for another aide she can manipulate, really makes Leandersson's performance utterly commendable. That the film is blunt in its content, not afraid to reveal the crimson or Eli's clear monstrous nature, makes this emphasise on adolescent characters more impactful, as the sustained injury of a cut on Oskar's cheek from a bully hits home further from the perspective of them being young teenagers or the climatic act of mass violence which is only seen in the aftermath. It doesn't allow you to brace the shock of the violence, nor the more unconventional and stranger moments, such as Elle's real form being briefly witnessed, or humour in aspects such as a white poodle appearing at the worst moment for Håkan in his busywork, which occasionally puncture the mostly sober and elegant film and always have an impact.
That it's also able to have the aforementioned black humour and aspects deliberately grotesque in tone, such as the unexpected introduction of hydrochloric acid that comes out of nowhere, without it seeming out of place is a testament to how Tomas Alfredson's film is quite haunting and considered in tone, without need even in its violence to become exaggerated and raise its voice in mood, the author of the original source material John Ajvide Lindqvist able to conjure a rewarding narrative from his own material in story and dialogue. As a result, it feels like a necessary homecoming for me, as with quite a few films from my viewing past, that regrets the distance since I first viewed it.