Let the Right One In

Movie Information

The Story: The life of a bullied, put-upon, lonely 12-year-old boy is changed forever when he gets a new neighbor who turns out to be a vampire, more or less his own age. The Lowdown: A brilliant, chilling, often sad and thoughtful horror film that delivers the genre goods, while offering considerably more in the bargain.
Score:

Genre: Horror/Drama
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Starring: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Karin Bergquist
Rated: R

All right Asheville moviegoers, quite a few of you have complained that Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In—the highly acclaimed Swedish vampire picture—wasn’t playing locally and wasn’t likely to play locally. Well, the Hollywood 14 brings it to town on Friday. That means the ball is in your court. If you want to see this movie—if you want to see more movies like this booked here—get out there and support it. Let the Right One In deserves it.

What a relief—and what a delight—it is to be able to praise a horror film without a string of qualifiers and excuses! Sure, there’ve been a handful of horror pictures in the past few years that deserved a look, but all required caveats about how this or that or the other thing doesn’t work, how a clunky opening has to be overlooked or a lame ending comes close to ruining the movie. There’s no need for that with Let the Right One In. Indeed, this is a horror film—and make no mistake, it is a horror film and an R-rated one at that—that edges its way into the realm of dark fantasy à la Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). If it doesn’t quite enter that realm, that’s no disgrace—very few films do.

Alfredson’s film—adapted from the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay—centers on what happens when a lonely, bullied 12-year-old boy, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), finds a 12-year-old girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson), moving into the apartment next door—in the middle of the night. The twist is that Eli, as she later admits, has been 12 for “a very long time.” She’s a vampire. And the man presented as her father, Hakan (Per Ragnar), is really her familiar—a singularly inept keeper, who is supposed to protect her and provide her with the human blood she needs to exist.

But there’s more—like whether or not Eli is even a girl. After the pair find companionship (largely against Eli’s will: “I can’t be your friend”) and Oskar wants to “go steady,” Eli tells him, “I’m not a girl.” This doesn’t deter Oskar, and for that matter, we’re not sure whether this is meant to convey that Eli is not a girl, but a vampire. The film leaves this somewhat vague (there’s a flash of scarred genitals to bear out the book’s depiction of Eli as a boy who’s been brutally altered). Similarly, the book explains who Hakan is, while the movie merely hints. All in all, I think the decision to leave certain aspects explicitly detailed in the book more open to interpretation works in the film’s favor.

In many ways, Let the Right One In is an achingly sad film about loneliness, and about Oskar and Eli finding respite from that in each other. Is it a romance? It can certainly be read as one—though this is worlds away from the romance novel sap of Twilight. And, it’s a good deal deeper and more disturbing. Oskar isn’t merely lonely. He truly lives a tortured existence—bullied mercilessly at school, neglected at home—and, prior to Eli, keeps himself going by indulging in revenge fantasies on his tormentors. He even has a scrapbook filled with newspaper cuttings of grisly murders, like some warped wish book. In this regard, Eli is as much a logical (if fantastic) step as potential friend and protector. Despite much charm in the depiction of their relationship, it becomes ever more clear that this is a symbiotic arrangement, and that the path it ultimately must take is more bitter than sweet.

It should be made clear that Let the Right One In—for all its deeper implications—never forgets that it is a horror movie. There may be no play with crucifixes (religion, in fact, never enters the story) and the standard trappings of the genre, but it is a vampire movie. It adheres to many of the basic laws of vampire folklore. Eli subsists on human blood; the bite of the vampire infects the victim; daylight means destruction etc. Even the film’s title is grounded in the myth that a vampire must be invited to enter a house before it can cross the threshold. (I can recall of no film prior to this, however, that deals with what happens if that rule isn’t adhered to.) The vampire acts are savage and blood flows pretty freely. There’s nothing namby-pamby going on here. It’s simply that there’s a lot more going on than in your standard horror flick, making it more unsettlingly horrific, not less so.

Brilliantly made—and with moments of very real sadness and genuine charm—Let the Right One In is that rare horror movie that stands apart from the crop and shows the rest of the moviegoing world that not all genre efforts are rubbish. Here is proof—if proof is needed—that the genre can be, and sometimes is, just as valid as any other. Rated R for some bloody violence, including disturbing images, brief nudity and language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

33 thoughts on “Let the Right One In

  1. Sean Williams

    What a relief — and what a delight — it is to be able to praise a horror film without a string of qualifiers and excuses!

    I know it’d be a relief to be able to praise a fantasy film that unequivocally!

    And, it’s a good deal deeper and more disturbing.

    That wouldn’t be particularly difficult…. But it sounds like Let the Right One In is very aware of the absurdities of adolescent romance compared to Twilight‘s lovelorn self-seriousness.

    Okay, here’s my problem: I’m with family over the holidays, so if I’m to see this movie, I’m either going to have to sneak out alone (unlikely) or convince everyone else to accompany me. Can you give me some kind of generic quote-whorish quip that I can present as evidence of the film’s acceptability? “Great fun for the whole family!” or something like that. That way, I can blame you if anyone finds it objectionable.

    If I don’t play this very delicately, I’ll probably end up seeing Bolt or Tale of Desperaux!

  2. Aed

    Having seen the film, I can agree wholeheartedly that it is fantastic and beautiful. I encourage anyone interested to take the time to see it.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Where is it playing in A’ville?

    It’s at the Hollywood 14.

  4. Chad Nesbitt

    The photography in the international
    trailer looks great.

    The scene – As the vampire child walks in without being invited and begins to bleed profusely.
    Just watching that scene as a trailer I found myself yelling at my computer monitor, telling that boy to “get the hell out of there”.

    Thank you for telling us it will be playing at Hollywood. Can’t wait to see it.

  5. Fantastic movie. More so a film about adolescence then out and out horror, but Ken’s review is spot on. I love when snow is used effectively like A SIMPLE PLAN, FARGO, GREAT SILENCE and this film as well.

    The dvd is coming out in March, but I reiterate that Asheville needs to support these little films better in the theaters… I want to see more!

    SPOILER!!!

    I wondered after the movie if the vampire knew that its time was up with the older man. Did the relationship with the boy grow organically or was it just auditioning him to take the older man’s place?

  6. Ken Hanke

    I’d answer your “SPOILER,” but I don’t think it can be answered — only guessed at. And that, I think, is one of the strengths of the movie.

  7. christiana

    I went based on your recommendation because I am not a horror movie fan. As usual, you fail to disappoint. I think I will be dwelling on this film for days. I love the way that Oskar became his own person. Really, his transformation was riveting and the movie was incredibly beautiful to watch.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I’m glad to see this film is getting a positive response. I knew people had to have been going, since the Hollywood held it over for a second week.

  9. Lloyd

    Saw it Friday and loved it so much I am taking a friend to see it again tonight. did anyone else experience technical problems when they saw it at Hollywood? There was a white bar at the top of the screen and the audio was rather fuzzy during the 10:30 showing last Friday.

  10. Ken Hanke

    did anyone else experience technical problems when they saw it at Hollywood?

    Since I’ve not seen the film there, I can’t say. The white bar sounds like a misframed film. Was the problem still evident when you went a second time?

  11. The theater had a really annoying hum throughout the movie. I hope that this is not common for Hollywood 14.

  12. john r

    We saw the film Wed. afternoon and spent dinner discussing it. Well made and thought-provoking. We really appreciated the new approach, and the willingness to break away from the standard horror movie mentality.

  13. Ken Hanke

    The theater had a really annoying hum throughout the movie. I hope that this is not common for Hollywood 14.

    That’s never been a problem I’ve encountered there. I did talk to someone who said the print was rather badly scratched, which of course has nothing to do with the theater. Personally, I’m looking forward to the day that digital projection completely replaces 35mm when things like scratches will no longer be an issue. Right now, of course, we’ve only got one all-digital theater (the Carmike 10), though the new Biltmore Grande does have one digital screen, as does the Epic in Hendersonville.

  14. halcb

    I must admit I felt a little self-conscious (perhaps even Scrooge-like?) going to see this dark little masterpiece on Christmas Eve, but what a treat it turned out to be… Great review of a very good film, Ken. Should be required viewing for all awkward and/or bullied adolescents. Eli (and the actress who played her) are truly heroic — or is it anti-heroic?

  15. Steven

    I saw this film a week ago and wasn’t disappointed. I was surprised how talented the young actors were, especially Oskar.

  16. Ken Hanke

    I’m glad to see that the reports coming in have all been positive. And I’m equally glad to see people actually went to the movie — enough that it’s lasted a second week (don’t know about a third week yet). This is in everyone’s favor. The Fine Arts does a tremendous job keeping Asheville up on quality films, but there are only two screens and they can’t book everything — and when you get into a situation like they have now with two sell-out level movies, that’s even more of a consideration. Supporting more off-beat fare wherever it shows up increases the chances of seeing more of it.

  17. Ken Hanke

    Just learned that this’ll be there for one more week, so there’s still a chance to see it.

  18. Andrea Slusser

    An intelligent horror movie, and very thought-provoking. The best adjective I can come up with to describe it is “restrained”, which seems counter-intuitive. This is one of the few horror movies I have seen that allows the viewer’s imagination to supply the most horrific aspects.

  19. Ken Hanke

    The best adjective I can come up with to describe it is “restrained”, which seems counter-intuitive. This is one of the few horror movies I have seen that allows the viewer’s imagination to supply the most horrific aspects.

    True enough — especially on a comparative basis if we’re putting it up against torture porn “horror” — but I think it does need to be noted that it’s not without its more overt horror elements. That’s to say that it’s not afraid to go there when it needs to.

  20. Since I’m fielding at least a dozen calls a week on this film, I want everyone to know that it is still playing at Hollywood 14. As much as I love making money off of rentals, PLEASE see this movie in the theaters if you can. Remember, greater support could mean more diverse films like this one coming to town.

  21. Ken Hanke

    PLEASE see this movie in the theaters if you can. Remember, greater support could mean more diverse films like this one coming to town

    What he said — with bells on!

  22. Ken Hanke

    Last chance to catch it on the big screen. It’s gone come Friday.

  23. Kevin Childers

    To Ken / all who watched this film:

    Glad I made the effort to view this film … last night … its final viewing. My long-time friend and I met prior to the show as we do for such an occasion. We both agreed on how cold it was … which in turn … (the coldness) … set the mood for our viewing of “Let the Right One In” – an incredible story that seemed slow for the first few minutes … but as the coldness from outside found its way in the theatre sitting room … I felt the hair on my neck stand up … as the killer (Hakan) hung and slit the throat of his first victim in the woods.

    From henceforth, nothing less than bone-chilling horror crept into that theatre room….

    I’d like to know what band Oskar played on his tape machine?

    Great film. Want to watch it again.

  24. Ken Hanke

    I have a screener of the film and might be able to figure out the name of the band. I’ll give it a shot anyway.

    My guess is that it won’t be long before the movie will be available on DVD. I should imagine it’s close to played out theatrically.

  25. Tonberry

    Let’s talk kitties.

    I really loved the ‘cat’ sequence in this movie, I hadn’t seen anything like that in a vampire movie. I’ve seen cats play significant roles in the universe of Mummy movies, but as far as a vampire movie, I hadn’t.

    Until last night, when I was watching “House of Dracula” on TV, and sure enough there is an exchange between a cat and soon-to-be vampire. This of course, instantly made me think of “Let The Right One In.” (Except the kitty in “House of Dracula” ran away, while the other kitties in “LTROI” decided to take the vampire down by themselves.)

    So I’ve been thinking, was “House of Dracula” the first time this connection has happened, or has it happened before that? (It’s been years since I’ve seen the other Dracula movies.)

    Or was the scene in “LTROI” some sort of homage to “House Of Dracula?”

    I’m guessing not really to the above question, there is always that myth that Cats can sense the presence of the undead, it’s just I’ve never seen it as a point in vampire pictures until recent.

  26. Ken Hanke

    The scene in House of Dracula (1945) where the cat takes issue with Onslow Stevens turning into a vampire (or whatever exactly it is he turns into) is an almost exact copy of a scene with Henry Hull and a cat in Werewolf of London (1935). Cats have an aversion to were-cat Simone Simon in Cat People (1942). I feel certain there are other instances that just aren’t occurring to me at the moment. Now, as to whether or not this is in any way being referenced in Let the Right One In, who can say? In any case, the scene as it stands is, I think, unique.

  27. Jenn

    I was online browsing the press for this movie as I finally saw it two weeks ago (in nyc) and thought it was great. Nice review.
    Also, this site seems to have a review of the soundtrack, including a mention of the song Oskar plays while Eli is in the shower: http://www.moviemusicuk.us/letrightoneincd.htm

    Hope that helps.

  28. Kevin Childers

    Jenn

    Thanks for the great and much anticipated information.
    It truly helps my curiosity.
    I am very interested in music from that region of the world,
    especially Finland (e.g. Wimme, Rinne Radio) And, some of Oskar’s tunes seemed very 80s new wave’ish, my other favorite.

    Kevin

  29. The cat scene in LET THE RIGHT ONE IN reminded me of Stephen King’s SLEEPWALKERS (1992), but done in a way that WASN’T unintentionally & hysterically funny, as was the feline-phobic mess that Mssrs. King & Garris presented.

    But Alfredson handled the scene (and the entire film) with tremendous grace. As a horror fan, I’ve about had it up to here with vampires, and yet I just LOVE this film. Just goes to show that it’s all about the story and how well you tell it.

    So…who’s looking forward to the upcoming U.S. remake helmed by CLOVERFIELD director Matt Reeves? *SHUDDER*

  30. Rilee

    I finally saw this on Netflix, and yes it did stay with me for days, even in vague ways haunting my dreams. As a victim of bullying myself as a child, I found myself all to uncomfortably identifying with Oskar. I wanted to be the vampire child, but found that an extremely uncomfortable feeling. This film was sad and genuinely charming at points, yes, but I thought that in part, what gives it its disturbing realism is the clinical way in which the story is presented here, under stark cold light. There is no romantic atmosphere here, or any bloodlust with sexual overtones, that one finds in vampire movies usually. There is kind of cold necessity to every step these children make, that drains the vampire myth of all its usual romance. I saw here that one must ultimately realize that the lingering vampire fantasy, if it could come true, would be in actuality an unrelenting life of continual brutal killing devoid of the sensual pleasure that is usually portrayed in other films. This film seems to be therefore literally the death of the vampire myth as we know it.

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