Every Friday we venture into world cinema and this week we are heading back to Scandinavia and specifically to Sweden for Let the Right One In, a modern classic adaption of the book from the same name. Shall we?
Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a lonely boy dealing with the separation of his parents and being constantly bullied at school. A chance encounter with a mysterious girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) brings the possibilities for a new budding friendship. Although Eli looks 12, she has been 12 for a very long time.
The best thing about Let the Right One In is that it is a take about a vampire but the fact that there is a vampire in the film it doesn’t club us numerous times about that fact. We learn about Eli and it is more of a subplot than anything. We also have a very serious vampire film in our hands. There is no showboating about being a vampire, this isn’t True Blood. Eli needs blood to survive. It is as black and white as that. The film is more concerned about two 12 year-olds finding each other and in a way saving each other in their own ways. Oskar gains the confidence to deal with his family situation and being constantly bullied. Eli gains love and compassion for the first time in probably a long time. They are feeding off each other emotionally instead of with the stereotypical blood. Their tale is a grim one for sure.
Keeping this grim tale going director Tomas Alfredson has given us a dulled down lens to watch this from. There is rarely a bright colour in the film, blood appears darker, almost blacker. All to match the emotional state of Oskar and Eli. The white of the Wintery Stockholm snow is almost grey. Even the sound is bared down for the audience, we hear every crunch of the snow (or in Eli’s case not very many when she needs to get around). This purposeful sound design also focuses on what Oskar hears, did we not hear Eli, because Oskar was too distracted with his attack of the tree? When he is alert again we and he hears everything. It is a very subtle trick, but a great one to utilise nonetheless.
Writer John Ajvide Lindqvist adapted his own novel and he did a terrific job in doing so. By cutting out a lot of Eli’s complicated and most likely non film-friendly history we are still provided with a little mystery over our vampire. The pace of the film is purposely slow and it is essential that it is. We need to feel for our two protagonists and hope that something, somehow works out for them. By not rushing through to the story it is allowed to unravel slowly, feeding us more information as and when it is required. As mentioned, this is a serious take and it is one that had been coming for audiences. This is a film vampire or not that was needed. Not rammed or rushed, but carefully placed for us to work out for ourselves.
While the film allows us to see this relationship between our leads, it doesn’t shy away from the horror and instead of giving us gruesome close-ups of attacks and deaths, we get long sombre shots, where we can only imagine what is occurring. The measured approach to the gore is also something that assists with helping Let the Right One In a stand out from another vampire fair (especially in that decade) The suspense and tense scenes building up to what we know is coming are excellent. Couple this with the quick and surprising attacks that the obviously low budgeted film was able to pay for and we have quite a tremendous film.
Hedebrant and Leandersson are perfectly cast and for the majority of the film, one of the two are constantly in a scene. That involves a lot of trust in director Alfredson. Happily, they are more than capable of carrying a scene on their own with Hedebrant showing his evolution from shy and held back Oskar to where he ends up at the end of the film. Leandersson is pure quality in her role, playing Eli perfectly that when I read the book, I can only envision her as the character. Her moody seemingly haunted by knowing far more than any of us facial features are much undervalued here.
Although the film focuses on Oskar, it is always clear that our attention veers more towards Eli, she is obviously the more interesting character and as an audience member, we want more of her in the film. This is despite us knowing that by having more of her on-screen her allure and mystery will diminish.
When Let the Right One In came around it was an utterly refreshing take on a tired idea. It is unexpected, grim and yet utterly captivating.
Rating – ★★★★