John Ajvide Lindqvist’s original novel is one of my favourite novels, and I feel that having read it (sadly not in its original text) would have ended up dampening my own memories of Tomas Alfredson’s film adaptation, but watching it again as I find has also helped me with my own appreciation of the work. Beyond being what I had simply remembered it for being as romance between a bullied boy and a vampire, there’s yet another tale about the discovery of sexuality hidden underneath the surface through a clever allegory. Though not quite as explicit as the novel’s detailing, just looking at how well does this film adaptation function on its own creates a tangible universe in which Lindqvist had initially created for the screens already makes it worth talking about, for not only is this one of the best vampire films in recent memory (not like there really is much competition anyways) but also one of the most unique horror films of the past decade.
Let the Right One In is a story about a bullied boy named Oskar, who is introduced to us through a reflection. We hear the young boy saying “Squeal like a pig.” In the opening shot, we already have an idea of what it is that young Oskar fears most within his world, for he is often bullied by his own classmates – but his divorced mother does not have any time for him. On one night, he runs into Eli, a young vampire struggling to survive in the same world for which the two of them inhabit, and they form a bond with one another. From the very outline we already have the environments around both characters established, but beyond being a unique love story between a human and a vampire what we also have is another commentary about the way in which youth are affected by their discovery of sexuality, violence, and the feeling of neglect. It is achieved so wondrously with adults never being shown in focus whenever children are present, establishing a sense of generational disconnect and making Oskar’s struggle with isolation all the more resonant for you feel his helplessness in how lonely he feels, and how he cannot defend himself.
The setting of the film, often shrouded in nothing but white as a result of the snow, gives the cinematography a very plain look – but what it establishes on behalf of the film’s setting is the mood to which the two lead characters feel. What makes Alfredson’s direction for this film so perfect is the way in which he captures the feeling of isolation, in small moments that go from the conversations that Oskar and Eli have with one another – their first meeting introduced with Eli, a violent killer placed right above Oskar, and their lives through the windows separated by a wall – as made evident through a pipe that splits the frame into two. In another moment we also have Oskar teaching Eli how to communicate through Morse code, but it is not until Eli’s passive nature insists he break out of this shell in order to inflict more violence upon those who have been troubling him where they share a frame. Yet as they talk with one another, the closeness in the bond that they share with one another can be felt so strongly first with the fact that they are shot in extreme close-up but every edit matches their eyeline, still hinting at how there is still more for Oskar to learn.
In the original text written by Lindqvist, Eli is not shown to us to be a girl but rather an androgynous male whose genitals had been circumcised within a previous era and yet it is not as explicit in this film version. Nevertheless, Alfredson still hints at the homoerotic nature of Lindqvist’s original text through subtle exchanges, first with Eli telling Oskar, “I’m not a girl.” The ambiguity in Oskar’s reaction is clear, because he is still unsure of Eli’s origins and yet he accepts this. Yet the way Alfredson has shown us the way sexuality has affected the growth of Oskar is what makes this moment so much more intimate, because of his young age together with the appearance of Eli. Yet as Alfredson and Lindqvist tell the story in front of our eyes, what makes this moment so tender is what comes afterward – the idea that Oskar has found his own sense of comfort in a companion that understands what it is that he is going through. It feels like a moment for both sides to grow out of their helplessness and develop their own sense of independence, because no one can stand up for their own motives other than themselves for their environment made them the way that they are.
What doesn’t work for me as well as everything else did, however, are the antagonist figures. Not just the bullies, who feel so one-dimensional but also the friends of Jocke, a local man killed by Eli after Håkan fails to provide her with the blood she requires in order to survive. The most that these characters offer feels like a pointless subplot that drags the film in terms of its pacing, because of how well the adults work to this story merely as background characters. Nothing feels compelling about them, and this sudden shift in focus feels detrimental to what made this film work so well because of how this film elevates that childlike perspective that adults only set an authority for the environment without having anything else to actually do with what goes on with the lives of the children. It feels pointless to sway into this area because it feels like a completely different movie from that of Oskar and Eli – a romance about self-discovery rooted in horror influences.
One can note homoerotic themes underlying within many classic vampire tales but never do you see them presented as being sexual in nature as Tomas Alfredson makes them to be in here. But what I find most astounding about Let the Right One In is the way in which Tomas Alfredson visually reflects the state in which Oskar is growing. From the first moment, you see darkness and then his reflection and you know already that he isn’t well – but the colour code as the film progresses hints all the more at what they turn out to become within their own environments. You already feel a sense of intimacy that is so rare within such tales but ultimately, it is what makes Let the Right One In work as effectively as it does. This is without a doubt one of the best vampire films to have come out in recent memory, not that it has much competition off the top of my head, but because it just feels so tender even in the darkness.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Sandrew Metronome.
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist, from his novel
Produced by Carl Molinder, John Nordling
Starring Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Ika Nord, Peter Carlberg
Release Year: 2008
Running Time: 114 minutes
Surprisingly sweet. Nice review.
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Thanks a lot, Dan!