Nowadays, cross-pollination seems to be the way to go for rejuvenating staid genres. Horror films are often as formulaic as they come, but Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) brings invention and inspiration in spades to its gothic mode of vampire fiction.
12 year old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) lives with his mother in a block of flats in suburban Stockholm. Bullied by other kids at school, he has private dreams of lashing out in violent defence – carrying around a pocket knife, which he only unleashes on a tree in the local playground. Parallel to a spate of murders, he befriends the ethereal, distant Eli (Lina Leandersson) – a girl who is also 12, and only comes out at night.
Thus begins one of the more original, and stranger romances of recent memory. Adapted from the Swedish-language novel by author John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let The Right One In takes its conventional premise and grounds it in a pre-teen relationship. It effectively captures and communicates the uncertainties and curiosity of developing sexuality – making the film quietly dramatic and sometimes lightly, sometimes darkly comical, while still crafting moments of chilling horror.
The film is like Pan’s Labyrinth in its mixture of real life and fantasy, and the true horrors of Let The Right One In are found in the more mundane contexts of school and family. The real monsters are the bullies, whose motives are vindictive and, in the case of their leader, without any sign of conscience or remorse. In comparison, the admittedly bloody life of Eli the vampire is profoundly sad – and the developing relationship between the two children is tender as it is unsettling.
Director Tomas Alfredson and cinematographer Hoyte von Hoytema are masterful in their creation of tension and atmosphere. With their use of sharp focus, diffuse lighting, and mostly static camerawork with long takes, they build a film that looks and feels as unique and leftfield as its narrative. They are helped in no small regard by the detailed reconstruction of a dreary, dull 1980s Sweden – like Iceland in Jar City, Let The Right One In‘s context of cold isolation and claustrophobia is tied to its country of origin. That said, it is such a contemplative, subtle film, and so very light in its treatment of the supernatural, that the more expressive, CGI-laden subplot involving another vampire is almost corny where it should be mournful and affecting.
Perhaps this relatively flawed diversion is merely a testament to the compelling force of the film’s two main protagonists. Hedebrant and Leandersson are both meekly genuine, yet manage to fill out their roles with playful innocence and mysterious sensuality, respectively. It is one of the film’s major triumphs, technical artistry and genre revisionism aside, that they have managed to generate such performances from young actors. It may still be a vampire horror film, with gruesome moments, but Let The Right One In has a tender, beating heart.
Let The Right One in is released in the UK on Friday 10th April.