Let the Right One In is not necessarily your traditional vampire movie (I think they only use the V word once) but it’s a much needed shot in the neck for the genre.
Vampires are putting themselves about at the moment. Mostly they have been diluted and turned into romantic teen novels and horrible movies, so far removed from Bram Stoker’s creation or the shadowy masterpiece of Nosferatu.
Let the Right One is a beautiful meditation on childhood, sexuality and our propensity for violence. Vampires (more than any other folk monster) have been made, remade and rehashed over the years, but they’ve never looked like this before. This is serious, sombre and incredibly romantic.
This Swedish made film is based on a novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist. The title references the Morrissey song ‘Let the Right One Slip In’ and alludes to the belief that vampires can’t enter a dwelling unless invited. The story centres around a young boy in a town on the outskirts of Stockholm. He’s lonely and frequently bullied at school which has led to him taking an all too keen interest in grisly murders and keeping a knife under his bed which he uses to practice his stabbin’ skills on nearby trees.
He meets (what appears to be) a pale young girl around his own age walking barefoot in the snow. What follows is an unsettling exploration of the relationship between two young people, Oskar and Eli, and their thirst and willingness to commit brutal and violent acts to survive, to protect one another and, I suppose, for love.
Quickly we discover that the mesmerising Eli (fantastically portrayed by Lina Leandersson) is actually a vampire. The film explores the association between vampires and sexuality and gender while also displaying with quiet skill the loneliness and segregation of youth.
The film follows the same course of the book though is in no way a scene-for-scene adaption. As the screenplay was written by Lindqvist, we can assume he’s influenced the direction taken and the result captures the mood of the novel perfectly. The film version focuses more closely on the relationships between the two children and is not so clear on the unsettling nature of the relationship between Eli and the man she lives with, Håkan.
Here Håkan is almost subservient to Eli, though his love for her is clear, to the extent that he wanders out in the night to collect blood from young victims for her. Despite being seemingly experienced at this routine he returns empty handed. He loves and cares enough for Eli to pour acid over his own face to stop her getting caught because of him. Grim. Once Håkan is out of the picture people start to go missing from the neighbourhood and Oskar starts to put two and two together about the mysterious Eli.
The film has a stark and washed out palette, the long dark and snowbound vistas of Sweden are a perfect set for the blossoming love affair between these pale and twisted youngsters. The blood is a deep dark red, almost black, standing out proud and stark in the pale backgrounds.
Throughout the film, we slip quickly between quiet moments of young love to violent bloody scenes weaving in and out of one another and creating a disturbing tapestry. As Oskar grows through his love and support from Eli, so does his readiness to hurt. He gains increased confidence and willingness to fight back against his bullies, culminating in a scene that could almost be funny but remains just on the right side of the line to be unsettling and horrific.
Overall the whole package is as sweet and romantic as it is shocking and bloody. It looks like nothing else I’ve seen and will leave you feeling unnerved but contemplative.
Also, it’s really scary.
For more spine-chilling thrills to watch over Halloween, check out our complete 31 days of horror movies list.