Let the Right One In
by Jason Coffman
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Earlier this year, I reviewed Frostbitten, Sweden’s first vampire film. As far as I know, Let the Right One In is the second vampire film from Sweden. It’s probably too much to hope for, but if this is indicative of the kind of genre film evolution Sweden is capable of, we need to get them producing films of every conceivable tired genre. Simply put, Let the Right One In is the best, most original vampire film to come along in ages.
Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a pale, thin 12-year-old who is the constant target of hateful bullies. He goes home with bruises or a bloody nose, but lies about what caused them when his mother asks. Oskar fantasizes about standing up to them, but can never muster the courage. When new neighbors move in next door, Oskar meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a girl his same age. They tentatively form a friendship, but their relationship is complicated when Eli reveals she is a vampire— she appears to be 12, but is actually much older.
As Eli and Oskar’s friendship develops, Eli’s helper Håkan (Per Ragnar) finds himself less and less able to provide Eli with the blood that she needs. His age and weakness lead Eli to rash actions that set some locals on her trail. As they get closer to Eli, Oskar has to make some difficult decisions as Eli comes to rely on him more and more.
When I (half-jokingly) said that Frostbiten was more Craven than Bergman, Let the Right One In is more or less what I was imagining a Swedish vampire film to be. Quiet, deliberately paced, and thoughtful, as well as being absolutely gorgeously shot and emotionally affecting. The performances are great all around, especially Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli. These are two of the best performances by child actors you’ll probably ever see. Director Tomas Alfredson gives the film a grace and warmth rarely seen in horror films, and John Ajvide Lindqvist’s script (adapted from his own novel) perfectly balances the supernatural existence of Eli with Oskar’s much simpler world.
Let the Right One In is not only one of the very best horror films of this year, but it’s easily one of the best films of the year period. If it creeps into your town this winter, you owe it to yourself to go see it on the big screen.
Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.
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