My review of this foreign horror film comes from Halloween 2010.
Foreign language films lose out on a wider audience for two reasons: limited distribution and subtitles. Most audiences view subtitles as a hurdle to their enjoyment of a film, but regardless of whether that’s a founded argument, it’s inconsequential for “Let the Right One In,” a Swedish film that reminds us that imagery is the universal language (sorry math nerds).
Tomas Alfredson’s film based on the John Ajvide Lindqvist book is haunting, touching, moving, creepy and so forth; the mood goes wherever he takes us and despite the generally quiet vibe of the film, “Right One” intrigues from start to finish.
A story of self-preservation and young love (in more the fondness sense of love), “Let the Right One In” certainly doesn’t tread typical 21st Century vampire movie territory, which might be enough in itself to warrant the film heaps of praise. Digression aside, the film centers around Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a 12-year-old boy being bullied at school and enacting revenge fantasies in his spare time and his encounter with your anything-but- typical “girl next door.” Yes, Eli (Lina Leandersson) lives next door, but she’s not a girl so much as a blood-thirsty vampiric creature. Eli lives with her “father” (Per Ragnar) whose life exists solely to keep her alive by bringing home fresh blood, something he hasn’t been so good at lately.
Like any relationship between 12-year-olds, Eli and Oskar bond over simple things (a Rubix Cube for starters) and are mostly feeling each other out, especially Eli, whose never had interaction with a peer in so far as we can tell. She inspires confidence in Oskar to stand up to his bullies and the two find a tenderness on which the rest of the story builds. “Let the Right One In” has plenty of cringing moments to warrant being tagged in the horror genre, but it’s this story of simplistic love that makes it a cut and several puncture wounds above the rest.
Adolescent relationships (anything with kids or actors clearly not at least 16) can be a touchy area, but Alfredson plays it nicely and avoids any discomfort. His strength remains mostly in the dramatic elements of the film and in working with Hedebrant and Leandersson. Considering the film focuses on this burgeoning relationship, it requires a lot of maturity from the actors and they live up the test without sacrificing their youthful innocence (and insecurity).
As far as horror goes, while “Right One” is not genuinely scary, the climactic moments of vampire attacks and such are striking and surprisingly memorable. Alfredson finds compelling and non-traditional ways to frame these key moments, especially the end, that engrave the film in your brain. They deliver such an impressive punch to the viewer that any wandering off done during a lull in the action instantly disappears.
To cap it off, all this is told with visual prowess. Alfredson demonstrates clear mastery in terms of understanding how what’s not seen on camera can be just as powerful as what is and can turn a moment of medium-level interest to high-level and high-level to instantly memorable. The way scenes materialize despite a lack of traditional framing of faces and focusing on certain objects impresses. The symbolism, namely of hands reaching out to walls and windows toward others, rarely receives better execution as well. Even the more bizarre events in the film have a powerfully surreal quality to them. Something with the lens being used or some subtly change brought a rare energy to those climactic moments.
“Right One” might never get due recognition outside the foreign-film appreciators community, but certainly not for any fault of its own — just the bias of specific people. It combines the best of visual storytelling and human-to-human drama all in combination with a familiar and beloved sub-genre of vampire stories. It’s a winning combination and one that just about anyone is capable of appreciating regardless of the vampire expectation.
Let the Right One In (2008)
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Written by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Starring: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson