LetTheRightOneInA really, really good Swedish import that breathes new life into the vampire movie.  It contains many attributes, among them an arresting style and excellent performances by a youthful cast.

Based on a popular novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Sweden’s answer to Stephen King, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (LAT DEN RATTE KOMMA IN) became 2008’s off-Hollywood horror movie to see after a rapturous film festival reception that saw it win several prestigious accolades, including the Tribeca Film Festival’s Best Narrative Feature award and Fant-Asia’s Grand Jury Prize.  It also appears to have struck a chord with American audiences during its winter ‘08 arthouse run.  The director was Tomas Alfredson (whose other films include FOUR SHADES OF BROWN and SCREWED IN TALLINN), who with LET THE RIGHT ONE IN announces himself as a great filmmaker—and who will no doubt be gobbled up by Hollywood before long!

Oscar is a lonely, wimpish pre-teen who’s bullied incessantly.  In the midst of a chilly winter Oscar runs into Eli, a spooky girl who upon meeting him announces “I can’t be friends with you.”  Eli and her middle-aged “father” have moved into the apartment building where Oscar lives with his distant, stand-offish mother.

Several bizarre murders occur in the area as Oscar grows closer to Eli.  He eventually asks her to “go steady.”  “I’m not a girl” she answers.  She’s actually a decades-old vampire, and is directly responsible for at least one of the killings.

The faux-father Eli is staying with committed the other murders.  He’s a stealthy but hopelessly inept vampire who tries to burn his face off with acid after botching his latest attempted murder.  He’s caught in the act and put in a hospital, where Eli shows up to put him out of his misery for good.

Now Oscar is Eli’s only confidant.  He learns her secret when he cuts his hand—and Eli ravenously laps up the blood.  Clearly she’ll have to leave town, but first some things need to be put in order, including a man who witnessed one of Eli’s killings, a woman Eli inadvertently vampirized, and the bullies who continue to torment Oscar.

From the first minute director Tomas Alfredson establishes an atmosphere at once mundane and deeply forbidding.  The tone in one sense is sweet and uplifting, with two young outcasts finding solace in each others’ company.  There’s even a happy ending of sorts, in which love (quite literally) conquers all.

But Alfredson favors disorientation throughout, eschewing establishing shots and often entering scenes in the middle or near the end.  His style is disarmingly intimate, with an emphasis on extreme close-ups and very deliberate focus pulls.  This, combined with Alfredson’s eccentric pacing, creates a sense of arresting strangeness and apprehension.  Credit also goes to the young leads Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson (who, at age 11, appears both young and old), who deliver remarkably natural, unaffected performances.

The film gets into trouble only toward the end, when the proceedings grow increasingly effects-heavy.  A scene where a vampire woman is attacked by CGI cats crashes and burns (proving that in making films if some element falls outside one’s scale or budget it’s best to go with something else).  It’s a definite mood-breaker, and the one point in which Alfredson loses control of his material.  The gory climax is also a bit jarring, although it at least is executed with the same style and confidence of the rest of the film.

Vital Statistics 


Director: Tomas Alfredson
Producer: Carl Molinder, John Nordling
Screenplay: John Ajvide Lindqvist
(Based on a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist)
Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Editing: Tomas Alfredson, Daniel Jonsater
Cast: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragner, Henrik Dahl, Karin Bergquist, Peter Carlberg, Ika Nord, Mikael Rahm, Karl-Robert Lindgren, Anders T. Peedu, Pale Olofsson, Cayetano Ruiz, Patrik Rydmark, Johan Somnes