Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) (2008)

Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) first published by Film4

Summary:  Comedy director Tomas Alfredson turns his hand to a quiet horror story of pre-teen angst and vampiric longing in Cold War Stockholm. 

Review: “Not too close, not too far. Keep distance.”

The broken Swedish of gym teacher Mr Avila (Cayetano Ruiz) may mark him out as one of several outsiders in Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in), but nonetheless the instructions that he is giving here to his young ball-playing wards has clearly been followed by the film’s cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, whose staid wide shots and oblique framing always keep us at a suitable distance from the events on screen. The style is unquestionably cool – and yet, in this extraordinary film, Alfredson lets some surprising warmth in to offset all the autumnal chill.

It is October 1981, in grim, snowbound Stockholm. As the radios buzz with the news that a Soviet submarine has run aground in violation of Sweden’s borders, 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is engaged in an escalating Cold War of his own against a gang of vicious bullies at school. Alienated, friendless, largely ignored by his separated parents, and secretly collecting newspaper clippings about grisly crimes, Oskar is an odd and possibly disturbed child. He may meekly endure the punishments meted out to him by his fellow pupils, but that is not to say that he does not harbour violent fantasies of revenge. “Squeal like a pig!” are the words that he addresses, even if only at his own reflection, in the film’s opening scene, as his new neighbours drive up in the darkness below his apartment window. He is delivering a similarly ineffective threat to an unresponsive tree outside when the younger of the new arrivals, Eli (Lina Leandersson), first approaches him – almost as though summoned. 

Eli is also 12, also lonely, also desperately sad – and although their first interactions are tentative, the two children are naturally drawn to one another. Soon Eli is encouraging Oskar to channel his killer instincts and stand up to his persecutors – but as Eli’s older guardian Håkan (Per Ragner) executes, or at least attempts, a spate of bizarre murders in the neighbourhood, Oskar must decide (along with the viewer) whether in befriending the strange, secretive and sexually uncertain Eli he has indeed let the right one in.         

No matter whether Eli is a supernatural being or a projection of Oskar’s own more bloodthirsy impulses, there is little denying that Let The Right One In is a vampire film – but designating it as such is something of a reductive oversimplification. With its psychological subtlety, its ambiguous (pre-)sexuality, and its studied banalisation of undead blood-letting, this is a long way from, say, the superficially similar Twilight (also 2008). 

  “Anyone who doesn’t like this film is an evil person.” At the Film4 FrightFest 2008, these were the words with which writer John Ajvide Lindquist introduced Let The Right One, whose screenplay he had adapted from his own semi-autobiographical novel. He need not have worried. The film wowed the audience, much as it has done at every festival where it has screened – for this is a stunningly poetic work that will appeal not just to the niche market of horror fans, but to any viewer discerning enough to appreciate the beauty of melancholy, the pain of growing up, and the irresistibility of violence. 

Beautifully shot, restrained in tone, moving yet utterly unsentimental, consummately performed, and showing a sympathy for its characters that extends even to bullies and cold-blooded killers, Let The Right One In transcends its generic confines, fusing the oldest kind of fury with an aching lyricism that seems entirely new. 

Verdict: Alfredson has crafted a vampire film that will appeal as much to the arthouse as to the hardened horror fan. Icy yet peculiarly tender, Let The Right One In is likely to match its immortal protagonist for longevity.  

© Anton Bitel