Twelve year old Oskar is going through some growing pains. His parents are divorced and he lives with his mother in a small apartment in Stockholm. At school, he is bullied on a daily basis and Oskar spends his free time dreaming of revenge and murder. When Eli, a child who appears to be the same age as Oskar, moves in next door, his life takes a strange turn. Initially, Eli tells Oskar they cannot be friends, but soon their friendship begins to blossom and Eli tells Oskar he needs to learn to stick up for himself. While Eli gives Oskar the confidence he needs, Eli is also harboring a dark secret. Eli is a vampire who lives on blood in order to survive.
Initially, I was torn about which version of this movie to watch for this review. Only a couple of years after Let the Right One In was released, director Matt Reeves released an American remake, Let Me In. Both movies got positive reviews and I had as many people tell me to watch the original as I did suggesting the remake. When in doubt… go with the original, and I’m so glad I did. Tomas Alfredson did an amazing job bringing Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel to life. After suffering from vampire fatigue thanks to a sea of young adult books, movies, and television shows featuring good-looking, erotic bloodsuckers, Let the Right One In was a breath of fresh air. It takes the genre back to its roots, creating a modern vampire that can be feared, as well as sympathized with.
The two young leads, Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson, are completely natural on-screen and together. The contrast between Oskar’s pale complexion and fair-hair is in obvious contradiction to Eli’s darkness, but beneath the exterior, they’re very much the same. At one point, Eli points this out to Oskar, telling him that while she needs to kill, Oskar wants to kill and he should “be me, for a little while.”
I appreciated that while the movie didn’t attempt to explain vampiric origins, it still included some well known vampiric lore, such as being unable to enter a dwelling without being invited. It does not shy away from the darker aspects of vampirism, nor the kind of darkness that lives inside the heart of someone who is constantly being ridiculed, hurt, or ignored. The cinematography is both beautiful and moody, and at times I got the feeling that I was watching a horror film set in the ’80s. I mean that as a compliment. Alfredson allows the film to move along at a pace that sets a sense of foreboding and dread, especially once Eli’s true nature is exposed and the bodies begin to pile up. And yet, the story still felt realistic, rather than fantastical. To me, that’s a sign of a truly good horror movie, when I can question reality and feel a sense of authenticity. That’s when it crawls under my skin and stays there. It’s extremely effective and Alfredson nails it.
Let the Right One In is a dark, but moving love story and there are some innocent people who die because of it, but it never feels malicious or overly sinister. Yes, there are some shocking moments and some legitimate scares, but it’s so restrained that it feels all the more disturbing. The bloody violence is understated and never used for shock value, which is something I appreciated. Excessive gore is not used to invoke a reaction, instead, it’s the storytelling that makes this film one of the best in the genre.