Let The Right One In (2008)

Let The Right One In, 2008; directed by Tomas Alfredson; starring Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar

On day 28 of our Poptoberfest Halloween Film Extravaganza we are headed to a nation not necessarily known for it’s horror films.  Sweden is known for, among other things, pop music (Abba, Roxette, Ace of Bass), being tall, being blonde, skiing, Ikea, their fish and of course the Swedish Bikini team.  It also has a rich film history, anchored by one of the early titans of the medium: Ingmar Bergman.  Bergman’s films tend to be deep and sober meditations on life and faith and reflection and host of other “light” topics. Though he made at least one film that leans into the horror genre (Hour of the Wolf), he is clearly not known for genre pictures of any kind.

Let The Right One In is a genre picture; it’s horror picture (or we wouldn’t be writing about it here);  it’s a vampire picture.  But unlike most of the movies and TV shows that emerged in the latest American Vampire craze (Twilight, True Blood, etc), Let The Right One In throws convention on its ear and is all the better for it.

In a suburb of Stockholm in 1981 we meet Oskar, a 12 year old boy who lives with his mother (his parents are split up and he occasionally visits his father Erik in the country) and is bullied at school. Soon a little girl, Eli, moves in next door with her dad.  Or Guardian.  Or some adult.  Eli appears to be the same age as Oskar, but soon tells him they can never be friends.

Soon, when we follow Eli’s guardian Håskan into the woods, we begin to understand why.  If we haven’t already figured out Eli is a vampire, well, Håskan’s grim yet meticulously set up task of setting up to essentially kill a young man and hang him upside like a freshly killed deer to drain his blood, let’s us know what is up.

This is a film that follows some of the standard vampire tropes, but mostly mutates those tropes into something new.  Where most vampire stories are either blatantly or subtly about a lurid lust, often amidst some form of sexual repression, here the relationship between 12 year old bullied Oskar and the 12 year old appearing Eli is played like a heartwarming childhood romance and the confidence builder Oskar needs to fight back against his own oppressors. Where vampire movies often have a gothic setting amongst the wealthy and high society with a luxurious viual flare, here we are in a drab Swedish Suburb from the 80s that is recognizable to anyone who grow up middle class in the 80s, or has grown to know the 80s suburban life from film and TV (like Netflix’s sensation Stranger Things.  This Swedish suburb feels more like working class Michigan or Wisconsin than, say, John Hughes’s yuppie world of Shermer, Illinois (where The Breakfast Club and many of his other teen films take place).

Let The Right One In is clever, suspenseful, charming, bloody at times (if you’re gonna make a vampire movie, you’re going to have some blood…. if you’re making it right), and more than a bit melancholy.    If you are the sort of person who is easily scared by subtitles, then the American remake, Let Me In, is that rare remake as good (or nearly) as the original.  Just remember, the next time you go to Ikea, if you see any wide eyed, hungry looking twelve year olds alone, try not to look so delicious, ok?

 

 

Dr. Vorhees