Written by: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Directed by: Tomas Alredson
Starring: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"You have to invite me in."
After 85 years of constant re-inventions and revisions, it's hard to imagine that the vampire film can still deliver a fresh new take on everyone's favorite undead legends. However, Let the Right One In aims to do just that. Arriving out of Sweden based off the novel of the same name, the film received a fair amount of buzz here in the States, and its fangs have finally been unsheathed on home video. With it garnering such as extreme praise (with some proclaiming it to be "the greatest vampire movie ever"), I of course had to give it a look myself to see if it lived up to such hype.
The film concerns the story of a young boy from a divorced home, Oskar, who has an affinity for tracking the most grisly and macabre stories in the newspaper. Unfortunately, Oskar is also the victim of bullying at school, and he often fantasizes about retaliating against his tormentors. Oskar has no apparent contact with any of his peers, and lives a reserved life with his mother until a mysterious, extremely pale young "girl" named Eli moves next door. The two children have a few odd encounters before the viewer learns that Eli is, in fact, a vampire, and even enlists the help of an older henchman to deliver the blood of her victims. As the film progresses, Ely and Oskar begin to develop an odd relationship, as the former convinces the latter to stand up to the bullies at his school; meanwhile Ely's own situation becomes more complicated as a local man grows suspicious of her.
Let the Right One In is certainly one of the most unique vampire films I've ever seen. This isn't necessarily due to its focus on younger characters (we've seen similar things in Near Dark, for example), but rather with its very naturalistic take on the subject matter. Despite the fact that the events are very odd and supernatural, it never feels as such. There's no sense of shock or wonder; instead, it seems as though vampirism is an accepted part of the film's universe. As such, there's no extensive explanation for who or why Eli is. Instead, it's as if we're treated to a window in time, and we're allowed a glimpse of this strange episode in a young boy's life. We get the feeling of being dropped into a middle of a world that definitely has a past even though we never see it. Though hints are given, we don't know who Eli is, why Oskar's parents are divorced, or why Oskar is the subject of constant bullying, but it all feels very authentic and real.
This is sort of emblematic on the film's style as a whole, as it's a very voyeuristic experience. The camera seems to constantly hover and linger in the background, and every shot feels very deliberate, every movement full of portent. As such, it's a very restrained, almost detached film that's highlighted by some very poignant moments of intimacy and violence that contrast sharply with the rest of the film. It's all held together by some wonderful cinematography, as the film is full of stark imagery and some downright creepy shots. The film's effective use of long shots uses every inch of the frame at times, with small details creeping up in the background. The musical score is complementary of the film's visual style, as it's often very restrained and only swells during foreboding scenes; interestingly, many dramatic scenes are without a score at all, which just adds to the unsettling nature of the film.
Ultimately, "unsettling" is a good way to describe Let the Right One In. There's just something about violence involving young kids that's effective (the recently released Eden Lake is another good example of this). It helps that the two leads, Oskar and Eli, are wonderfully acted and interact well. There's a sense of childlike innocence in the relationship, even though Eli is definitely anything but innocent. This innocence remains even at the film's conclusion, even though it really doesn't feel like it should. Interspersed with all of this are some key moments of violence that are brutal in their starkness. There's no stylizing it or making it feel cinematic; instead, it just simply happens in its purest form.
While it's far too early to proclaim this the "greatest vampire film ever," it's certainly one of the most unique, and it certainly lived up to the hype for me. There's not much here to criticize, as all elements of the production are top notch. There have been a few vampire stories that have attempted to ground the myth into something a bit more realistic, but none of them have felt quite like this because the film is just so bleak and haunting. The film is just so quiet and restrained that you can't help but feel a bit creeped out by it, while strangely feeling a bit touched by it. It's an odd feeling to be sure, but I think that's the mark of an effective film.
The film has come to home video from Magnet Films on both DVD and Blu-ray. I had to settle for renting the former version, and the audio/video presentation is good for the most part. The transfer has a little bit of trouble handling some of the more dimly lit exterior shots, but it's a solid transfer otherwise. The audio is well done too, particularly louder sound effects that sound extremely natural. The biggest controversy involves the subtitles, which are apparently extremely over-simplified English translations. Magnet is aware of this and has promised an up-dated re-release in the future. If this is an issue for you, you might want to wait; however, at some point in time, you should certainly let this one into your home, as it's one of the most intricate and well-made vampire films I've ever seen. Buy it!
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