Let the Right One In

by Marlow Stern

Based on the novel by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, “Let the Right One In” is a chilly, atmospheric film by fellow countryman Tomas Alfredson (“Four Shades of Brown”). With its deft mix of horror and a heartwarming love story, it comes as no surprise that the movie won the big prize – The Founder Award for Best Narrative Feature – at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.

The story unfolds in 1982 in Blackeberg – the snowy, working-class suburb of Stockholm. Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a pale, shy 12-year-old who lives with his divorced mother in a depressing apartment complex. Brutally bullied by his wicked schoolmates, he has developed a morbid fascination, birthed out of his desire for revenge (he collects newspaper clipping of heinous crimes, and collects knives). When the film opens, a shirtless Oskar is staring into the window clenching a knife, and reciting the “Squeal like a pig” line from “Deliverance.” He’d be a school-shooting suspect if he wasn’t so effeminate and demure – or in other words, Swedish.

Lonely Oskar is immediately drawn to his disheveled new neighbor Eli (Lina Leandersson), an equally pale, deathly serious young girl with entrancing blue eyes who only comes out to play at night, walks around barefoot in the freezing winter, and emits a foul odor. For an introverted boy like Oskar, who’s fascinated by the macabre, it doesn’t take long before he figures out that this is no normal 12-year-old girl, but a centuries-old vampire. Eli lives with her oddball father Hakan (Per Ragnar), and the family’s arrival coincides with a series of gruesome murders.

An eerie tone is established early on, as Hakan is seen gassing his victims with halothane, hanging them upside down from a tree, slitting their throats, and collecting the blood in a jar for his bloodthirsty daughter. These early scenes also approach black comedy, as Hakan, aided by breathtaking visuals and a haunting score, is constantly stymied by his own ineptitude – and some awful timing – in his search for fresh blood.

Soon, a subtle romance blossoms between Oskar and Eli, and instills in him the inner strength to fight back against his aggressors.

Thankfully, much of the novel’s raciness has been toned down, including subplots involving drugs and pedophilia. Despite plenty of bloody, vampire f/x, the film’s most chilling sequences occur on the schoolyard, as a gang of ruthless thugs bullies Oskar. There is, however, one shot of Eli’s nether regions, though it surprisingly doesn’t seem gratuitous within the framework of the narrative.

The film’s title refers to the Morrissey song “Let the Right One Slip In,” but also alludes to the fact that vampires cannot enter a house unless invited.

Ethereal child actors Hedebrant and Leandersson perfectly embody their roles, with all the burgeoning feelings and confused emotions of two disaffected – well, one is infected – young adolescents. The contrasting images of the film are a thing of beauty, as Oskar and Eli’s light/dark visages are brilliantly captured through shading techniques, and the spilled blood of victims is juxtaposed with the snow-white landscape.

While the film’s ending is, quite literally, overkill, this poetic and unexpectedly tender film is mesmerizing from start to finish. Lets hope they don’t screw up the inevitable American remake too badly…