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Let the Right One In (2008)

  • Review: **** (out of ****)
  • Starring: Kre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Peter Carlberg, Ika Nord, Mikael Rahm, Karl Robert Lindgren, Anders Peedu, Paul Olofsson
  • Director: Tomas Alfredson
  • Screenplay: John Ajvide Lindqvist (also Novel)
  • Length: 110 min.
  • MPAA Rating: R for some bloody violence including disturbing images, brief nudity and language.

Vampire films have evolved greatly since F.W. Murnau’s groundbreaking 1922 achievement Nosferatu. Many things, both positive and negative, have come along with those changes, but Let the Right One In takes the genre in a different, more realistic direction.

One might scoff at the term realism being used to describe a vampire flick, but there is little other way to describe it. This Swedish foreign language film twists the legend in ways that only an admirer of the folk tale originated creatures could have.

The film follows a young elementary school child named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) whose divorced parents love him, but who don’t seem to understand the adolescent angst he’s going through. He’s the target of a group of bullies at school, yet acts as most self-conscious children would and shies away from them and tries his best to escape their cruelty, only to find himself more beholden to their whims. He meets a young boy one evening on the snow-covered jungle gym in his apartment building’s courtyard. Eli (Lina Leandersson) is an unusual child. He doesn’t go to school and only comes out to play at night. Although Oskar initially finds this disconcerting, he relishes having a friend he can talk to instead of consistently feeling like an outsider.

And Eli can relate. He’s a vampire, one turned at a very young age, but seems to be incapable or at least not desirous to take care of himself, relying instead on a man he calls father.

One of the terrific aspects of the film is that the super-human qualities and blood drinking are heavily downplayed in favor of a more honest, “what if these creatures really lived” attitude, exploring the delicate balance of co-existence they must maintain. Eli’s caretaker takes great pains to avoid capture as he abducts innocent young men and drains their blood in a most interesting manner. Yet, when he is captured by the police for having tried to kill a young man in a high school gym locker room, Eli must fend for himself. From there, still seeming to possess the impetuousness and recklessness of a child, but with the physical capabilities of a vampire.

Interpersonal relationships for vampires have to be difficult things and Let the Right One In does an amazing job with it. The audience can easily feel a kinship to these children, understand their many troubles and even sympathize with a creature required to kill innocent people to live. This isn’t your typical Friday night Fright Fest. It is a compelling, detailed exploration of the genre, turning many of the traditional conventions on their ears.

Hedebrant and Leandersson are fine young actors, giving their characters emotional depth that some actors can only superficially achieve. They aren’t smart-ass, wisecracking kids like those often portrayed in American movies. Instead, they are vulnerable, socially challenged outcasts who develop an intense relationship because of their similarities and turn to each other for support when things get rough.

That the film turns out to be more of a coming of age story than a vampire flick is a testament to the incredible screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist based on his novel and the skilled direction of Tomas Alfredson. While its success has already led to an American re-invention (much like the often-inept adaptations of Korean horror movies), there is little that could diminish the impact or the overall quality of this film. And hopefully, like those Korean-made films, this one can get even more attention and respect after the quick-turn-around remake is made.