Let the Right One In had its US premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April, 2008. Ten years later, it’s still rattling audiences with its gloomy AF plot line and disquieting photography.
Let the Right One In is bleak; each set piece washed in grey rendering the picture cold, like a Caspar Friedrich painting. Naked trees and barren sidewalks languish under an ashen sky. Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) drifts through life like the snow that envelops his suburban apartment complex, his champagne hair and ivory face as pale as the night sky, the bare walls of his bedroom as desolate as the courtyard outside. His mother’s love and attention doesn’t reach beyond her shadow; his father too absorbed in friends and brown liquor to notice his son’s social ineptitude. In school, Oskar is accosted with lessons concerning arson and murder. He is marginalized by his teachers and bullied by his classmates who jeer, “what a good piggy you are.”
At night, he plays with straight razors and fantasizes about sinking his blade into the soft flesh of his tormentors. I imagine Dylan Klebold had similar thoughts before laying his head down for bed.
Enter Eli (Lina Leandersoson), a mysterious young girl whose creamy tone and grey eyes mirror Oskar’s own. Initially reluctant to make friends, claiming, “I am not a girl,” Eli soon accepts Oskar into her life. It’s through their relationship that the dual meaning of the picture’s title is laid bare. Blood suckers needing an invitation to enter a residence has long been part of the vampire lore, but years of cruel and unfair treatment have led both Oskar and Eil to develop avoidant personality disorders. Their social shortcomings are no match for the emotional impact they cause in one another however, and over time they develop an intense friendship.
When Eli discovers Oskar is being bullied at school, she encourages him to defend himself. He signs up for weight-lifting classes and stands up to his oppressors, opening one of their heads with the blunt edge of a pole. When they attempt to retaliate, Eli intervenes, slaughtering them like cattle in a spectacle of flesh and blood. Disturbed by Eli’s savagery, Oskar is reminded that his vengeful reveries are likewise soaked in red.
A gloomy but beautiful fairy tale, Let the Right One In speaks to the power of companionship and young love. Based on the novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist and perhaps inspired by the melancholy song by Morrissey, Let the Right One In contains an innocence that allows viewers to sympathize with its monsters. The connection between Oskar and Eli runs deeper than youthful infatuation. They each fill a void in the other’s life induced by years of emotional neglect. Eli has found someone who accepts her for what she is and Oskar has found someone who supports his dark fantasies.
Despite the sensitivity shown its characters, the movie rebuffs the traditional romantic approach to vampire lore. Eli’s addiction is ugly. It hides behind her dull eyes and pale skin while devouring her from the inside out. When she kills, it’s nasty, her murky surroundings wiped out by the chaotic onslaught of red. Dark goo gushes from open wounds and pools on dusty floors. At one point Eli stoops to slurping a stream of blood from the dirty ground.
The garish displays of red along with the muted color palette of western Stockholm and claustrophobic atmosphere of its icy streets bolster the themes of the movie. Barren fields echo Oskar’s loneliness, the skeletons of trees speak to Eli’s isolation, the thick and strong bursts of blood reflect the turmoil building inside each of them.
Tackling vampire tropes with intelligence and originality, Let the Right One In was celebrated upon its release not only as a horror picture but also a coming-of-age tale about love and disaffected youth. Both eerie and heartwarming, The Vampire love story was one of the most affecting horror films of the 2000s. Now ten years later, it continues to stimulate audiences, its adolescent revenge theme eerily tolerable to a culture all-too familiar with school shootings, its characters fitting the acknowledged paradigm of those who carry out such horrible actions.
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The film’s director, Tomas Alfredson, went on to create the celebrated Cold War thriller, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema has made a career of capturing haunting and arresting images on film. From the warm and colorful dreamworld of Her to the ghostly beaches of Dunkirk speckled with bodies of Allied troops in Christopher Nolan’s stunning war pic, Van Hoytema’s work with the camera has served of number of iconic movies. The picture itself received the remake treatment in 2010 when Hammer Films released the American-British recreation Let Me In.
Let the Right One In was released on blu ray in 2009 by Magnet Films. Among the features on the disc are a “Behind the Scenes” featurette, deleted scenes and a still gallery. You can also find the movie streaming on Shudder.