Let The Right One In
by Del Harvey
Original Swedish Title: Låt den rätte komma in
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Oskar is a fragile, anxious boy of 12. At school he is regularly bullied by his stronger classmates, led by the psychopathic Conny; but Oskar never strikes back. Living alone with his mother, the boy’s wish for a friend seems to comes true when he meets Eli, a girl and also 12, who moves in next door to him. But Eli’s arrival coincides with a series of gruesome deaths and attacks in his town. Though Oskar realizes that she’s a vampire, his friendship with her is stronger than his fear.
Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson gives us an outstanding visual interpretation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s adaptation of his acclaimed book about friendship, rejection and loyalty. The story is presented in a disturbing, darkly atmospheric, yet unexpectedly tender tableau of adolescence. At the same time it is an absolutely new and exciting take on the vampire film, a genre largely overworked here in the States.
The focus, for much of the film, is upon our two main characters, Oskar and Eli. These young actors handle the subtleties of this complex story with greater nuance than many actors three times their age. Kare Hederbrant, as Oskar, has us sucked into his lonely loser’s dilemma from the opening scene, where he pretend-practices stabbing his schoolyard nemesis, Conny, and forcing him to do exactly what he’s been forcing Oskar to do for weeks now – squeal like a piggy. Lina Leandersson, as Eli, is equally lonely, a waifish gypsy with huge, sad eyes who seems to like Oskar from the moment they meet on the snow-covered jungle gym in the courtyard of their apartment building.
What is so wonderful about this film really are its characters and how much a sense of reality they are given. Instead of some darkly brooding vampire searching for his next sexy bride we are introduced a little girl who reluctantly accepts her fate and the fact that she must feed off others to survive. Oskar seems to sense there is something odd about Eli almost from the start, but it is this same oddness which draws him to her as a kindred spirit forced to face the harsh realities of life not uncommon to many of us as we grow up. These two slightly off-center characters realize how lucky they are to have found each other among a world often too hard to face alone.
The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is really quite beautiful in a very austere and stark style that often plays with depth of field and focus. His night work is especially rich and visually stunning. It supports the sense of loneliness and alienation common to all of us in the hollow moments of a long night.
I could go on and on with praise for this film. The truth is, I cannot recommend Let The Right One In enough. I liked it so much, it’s on my Top Ten Films of 2008 list, surpassing the likes of Doubt and The Reader; it’s that good.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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