Film review – Let the Right One In (2008)

Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson)
Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson)

Anybody who was depressed, bored or annoyed at the chaste blandness of Twilight is going to have their faith restored in the power of vampire mythology when they see the intriguing Swedish horror drama Let the Right One In. Directed by Tomas Alfredson and based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the film’s screenplay, Let the Right One In is about the friendship between Oskar, a shy and bullied twelve-year-old boy, and Eli, the strange girl who moves into the same apartment block as Oskar in suburban Stockholm. It is reminiscent of Brian de Palma’s classic Carrie and the underrated Canadian werewolf film Ginger Snaps but far more understated than both. This beautiful film balances brief moments of horror with a genuinely touching story about first love and coming of age.

The simple, unobtrusive camera work captures the stark beauty of the snow covered setting. White is the dominant colour in this film and it is used incredibly effectively to create the sense of purity and childhood innocence. Even Oskar, played remarkably by first time actor Kåre Hedebrant, is blond haired and white skinned giving him an immense vulnerability that contrasts sharply in the scenes where he plays with a knife and fantasises about having violent power over his classmate tormentors. Another first time actor, Lina Leandersson, plays Eli who is a vampire forever in the body of a twelve year-old-girl. Leandersson’s gives an astonishing performance for a girl her age and when the camera gazes into her eyes you really believe that she has lived way beyond her years.

press_06Let the Right One In assumes that the audience are aware of vampire mythology and the word “vampire” is only ever spoken once. The film adheres to the conventions of the genre while still maintaining a fresh and original perspective on the idea of vampires needing to drink blood, having to be invited into rooms and having to avoid sunlight. Having the vampire character as a twelve-year-old girl allows the filmmakers to explore the particular vulnerability that she has while also exploring the concept of the monstrous child.

Refreshingly free of over explanatory dialogue or the need to spell things out to the audience, Let the Right One In is a subtle film but not an obscure one. Moments of gore are discrete and integrated into the film without ever feeling exploitive. In fact all acts of violence are so brief and artfully depicted that they create an impact that lingers long in the mind while taking up hardly any screen time. Let the Right One In is a slow burning film with an engulfing atmosphere that leaves you feeling moved and mesmerised long after the credits have finished.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009

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  1. You really nailed the reasons why this film is so affecting – its mixture of true horror and a poignant story about a young boy’s understanding of his own identity.

    The final scene is one of the most shocking and disturbing – albeit logical and expertly crafted – scenes that I came across in ANY film in 2008. It’s a pity that the movie didn’t receive any Oscar attention in the category of best foreign language film.

    I’ve heard that an English-language remake is in the works, but I’ve not heard any details. Not sure how Alfredson’s version could be improved on, though. My hope is that his film gains more attention before it lands on DVD.

  2. Hi Philip

    Thanks for dropping by and I’m glad you liked what I said. I actually haven’t come across anybody so far who hasn’t liked this film, which has both surprised me and pleased me. I’m glad you mentioned that issue of identity as it is a big part of the meaning of this film. And yes – that final scene is incredible. So beautifully composed and so effective.

    The lack of Academy Award recognition was terrible and is an issue that regular visitor moogirl22 has raised before. The problem was that the Academy only consider foreign films that the country of origin offer and Sweden didn’t offer Let the Right One In. There’s a good post about this over at Ain’t It Cool News.

    As for the USA remake, the main bits of news that I have is that it is scheduled to be released in 2010 and it is being written and directed by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves. Now I actually liked Cloverfield (and I know I’m in the minority there) but I really can’t see this working at all. It’s an understatement to say that Reeves will need to bring a completely different sensibility to this remake than he did on Cloverfield. Even so, Let the Right One In is just such a Scandinavian film in style and tone that I can’t imagine it being reproduced by another culture. I’ll try to be open minded but I’m not liking the sound of this at all!

    There’s some more information over at Variety and please feel free to add more info if you hear of it. You are also welcome to leave links to any relevant articles you post on Philip Booth’s Flickers & Lit.


  3. Thomas:
    Thanks for the info, and for linking to my site.
    I had heard that Sweden hadn’t made the film its official entry, but I’d not heard any details. I’ll check out that Ain’t It Cool item.

    I’m with you on Matt Reeves and the remake – I don’t like the sound of that at all.

  4. I think I am going to give the remake (now named Let Me In because, of course, Hollywood found the original title too long) a very wide berth. This film is so unique and brilliant just the way it is, and I don’t quite see the point in remaking it other than to make money… which is, I guess, the only real point.

    I do hope the people who made this film, particularly Alfredson and Leandersson, go on to do more things together. I have very much enjoyed older Swedish cinema, particularly that attributed to Ingmar Bergman, and it’s nice to see that it’s getting a bit of an international revival. Hopefully it lasts.

  5. That new name really is stupid as it looses the essence of the film, not to mention further removing it from the Morrissey song, “Let the Right One Slip In”, which the book was originally named after.

    You’ve got to love Bergman, but really, how can any serious film lover not? The rather excellent Melbourne Cinémathèque are currently running a spectacular programme of his films so I’ve been recently re-watching a few favourites.

    I’m not claiming to be an expert but if you are interested in Swedish cinema then another director to look out for is Lukas Moodysson. Some of his more recent work has become very challenging to sit through, but the early films of his that I’ve seen are great. In particular I recommend Show Me Love, which is one of my favourite teen films.

  6. Thanks for the rec, I’ll look out for some of his stuff. I’ve heard of that film before, but I didn’t realise it was Swedish. Hm.

  7. Finally you tracked down a copy of this film. I’m so glad you were moved by it as I was.
    It has been months since I saw it and still the feelings linger from this movie.

  8. Speaking of first-rate Swedish directors: Jan Troell’s new Everlasting Moments, a period piece set in the early 1900s, has just opened in the U.S.

    It’s getting great reviews. I’ve yet to see it.

  9. Actually, Let the Right One In was not snubbed by the Academy because Sweden chose to submit another movie.
    It was simply released in Sweden too late to meet the requirements for a Foreign Language nominee.

    Unlike the other awards (for which movies released between January 1 and December 31 are eligible), movies submitted in the Foreign Language category must be released in theaters and run for seven consecutive days in its country of origin between October 1 and September 31 (2007/2008 in this case).

    While Let the Right One In was screened at a festival in Sweden as early as January 2008, the actual release (playing for more than 7 consecutive days) came after the deadline, on October 24, 2008.

    In other words, Sweden could submit the movie for the next Academy Awards.

  10. He he – Glad you liked that. But, Ginger Snaps is underrated! More people should know about it and it’s one of my favourite horror films from the past 10 years.

  11. Hi!
    Well, I loved the film, and I’d like to state my opinion about the american remakes…

    It’s such a pity. Many many awsome films (Abre los ohos-Vanilla Sky, The Curse and many many others) destroyed! Instead of letting the audience discover them in their original version and open open their minds to another style of cinematography, know other cultures, languages and points of view…they make them all speak English! And after they do that, all the films look the same. Thrillers? The same music, scenes designed to make you jump of your chair, no depth, only surface…Same thing happened with the Eurovision contest. Once it had the colour of each country, now they all sing the same songs, in English of course! I wonder, when being different became such a bad thing…
    (excuse the mistakes, I’m from Greece…:)


  12. Welcome aurelia aurita and thanks for your comments. Don’t worry about mistakes – you clearly write English better than most English speakers could write in another language (including myself)!

    I’m assuming that when you mention The Curse you mean the Korean film Ju-on? I know it as The Grudge but it was marketed as The Curse in other countries.

    Anyway, I understand your frustration about remakes and it is something I mentioned yesterday in the comments for Knowing. I basically said that the majority of English-speaking audiences won’t see films in another language or films that even contain references to cultures different to their own (apparently only 50% of Americans own a passport – they just aren’t interested in what happens in the rest of the world). So in order to make money it makes sense for Hollywood to remake a film that has been successful overseas for an English speaking market. Not all of these films are inferior but they often are and I find the general trend very depressing.

    By the way – I went to Eurovision when it was hosted by Athens! Greece is a beautiful country.

  13. Hi again, thanks for your answer!:)

    I’ve just discovered your site, searching for more information about this touching film. Yes,I mean Ju-on, in Greek it was translated as “The Curse”. I totally understand what you’re saying about America, it’s true they live in another planet… – but this “English-mania” unfortunately seems to be taking over the rest of the world as well! And this is spoken by a person that loves the English language…I don’t know…I blame Globalization!:))

    You were here? How nice-yes, it’s a lovely country. If only the Greek people could care more about it..

    Ok, enough grouching! Glad I found your blog, I’ll be visiting. Goodnight! (or is it morning there? hehe)

  14. Good points about all remakes looking, sounding and feeling the same Aurelia. Hollywood really need to throw away those templates.

  15. While I loved the movie I did not find the idea of first love nor coming of age to be very descriptive. How can a vampire who is a couple of hundred years old be thought of as new to the game ? Eli must be an expert at seduction and ‘misrepresentation’ to have survived this long . Oskar experiences infatuation but given the circumstances his emotions are simply a one way street. Eli needs a new familiar to survive and after this long has undoubtedly come up with a plan and routine. Eli is like Benjamin Button at age 12, she’s seen the world many times over. She is NOT a 12 year old and hasn’t been for a long, long time.

  16. All very valid points Gordo so thanks for your comment.

    However, I stand by my description that Let the Right One In is a first love and coming of age story because I regard Oskar as the focus of the film and it is his emotional journey that carried the most resonance for me.

  17. Eli did leave Oscar behind and we do not see that she insists he join her. Also, she is vulnerable to him in coming into his home w/out his invitation. I think she genuinely cares for him.

  18. Gordo, Oskar would be a terrible guardian, and is shown to be supremely incompetent at violence in the scene of Jocke trying to kill Eli – Oskar can’t wield a knife even with everything on the line. Eli shows remarkable self-restraint when Oskar bleeds, and takes a huge risk when entering uninvited – what if Oskar had fainted? Also, a father figure like Hakan would have been far more practical than a child. Finally, Eli returns only when Oskar needs help, not when Eli does. So the only plausible motive is that it is genuine love rather than self-interest. Lindqvist himself implies in an interview that Eli is not pretending.

    I loved both the book and the film – be warned, the book is much darker and brutal. I will not be watching the American remake – I agree that the title loses the whole point of the novel’s title. Just to muddle things further, Let Me In is also how the Swedish film was translated into Spanish and Italian I think, and apparently the novel was translated as Let Me In for the American edition (apparently they originally wanted to translate it as Let Her In which, as Lindqvist points out, makes you wonder if they even read it)

  19. I just found the film and have been enjoying it more times then I should.

    The fact that it can be interpreted many different ways has astounded me. I thought of 2 ways (love and recruiting another father). One that floored me was that the whole pool scene and after was Oskar dying and going to heaven, and I could not fault that.

    Watch the hands in this movie (another thing I did not catch). The are working on borders and communication. Sometimes the hands are showing “letting the right one in” esp. during the seen at Eli’s apartment the first time when Oskar is confronting Eli with the fact she is a vampire. The voices are talking but the hands are breaking down the barrier of understanding. Wow!!

  20. i never heard about this film before in indonesia, but when i watch this film in not intentionally situation, well..i really like this film.
    this is so brilliant and unique.
    i watched the dvd many times. this is one of my favorite film ever.
    and now i am waiting for the remake.
    and good luck for it :)

  21. Gordo seems to have a very cynical view of life. Remember when you were a teen and falling in love for the first time and truly, honestly believing it’s going to last forever?

    If you read the book, and if you’re familiar with vampire mythology, child vampires cannot exist without an adult guardian. they can, technically, but they’ll call too much attention to themselves. children can’t rent houses. children can’t buy property. where will the vampire live? how will she live? as a transient, living in abandoned houses? that’s too risky for a being who’s extremely vulnerable during daytime and while asleep.

    Hakan was not a father figure. He was a pedophile who served Eli because he was in love with her.

    According to the book, Eli is 12 inside and out, has always been and will always be 12, unlike Rice’s child vampires who look like they’re barely out of diapers but possess centuries of knowledge. The book and the film differ a lot, but knowing a bit about the book can help you understand the parts that you find difficult to comprehend.

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