VOD film review: Let the Right One In
James R | On 31, Oct 2016
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar
Eli (Leandersson) is a 12-year-old who’s been 12 for a very long time. Living with an older man, Hakan (Ragnar), she lives off the drippings of dead people that he collects in a bottle.
Not your first choice for a childhood friend, perhaps, but that doesn’t stop Oskar (Hedebrant). A solitary half-pint of pale prepubescence, he cuts a lonely figure in the Stockholm snow. Bullied by bigger boys, he’s the unfortunate fallout from a split home, reduced to sitting in his room, cutting out newspaper stories about murders.
When the two eventually meet, Oskar is drawn to her alienated, anaemic aura. The affection appears to be mutual and an eerie bond develops, the unspoken bloodlust a disturbing, chilling undercurrent; this is less a romance and more a dark, melancholic piece of tender poetry.
As Eli lets Oskar into her twilight, she must be invited into his – an emotional truth given literal impact, by way of an old bit of genre mythology. What happens if he refuses? The horrific answer is a crucial moment of trust that transforms his life, possibly for the better, but will surely transform his death into something far worse. The ambiguous nature of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel, which compares vampirism to a tumorous growth on one’s heart with devastating delicacy, could easily be lost on screen, but the writer’s own adaptation carefully removes details to make it even more so. Cutting out a subplot involving Eli’s father-like keeper, Hakan, the result is elegant as well as elegiac.
Director Tomas Alfredson, whose keen eye for composition made his Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy stand out from the espionage pack, steeps everything in a nightmarish shade of grey, from the long, slow shots of snow passing across the black abyss of night to the stumbling home of the local pub regulars, permanently at risk of infection.
Amid its understated narrative of longing, single events jump out: a night-time visit to a hospital window; the ferocity of a feline when faced with fear; a swimming pool drowned in blood. Such bizarre moments border on the darkest comedy, yet never unsettle the unnervingly gentle balance of emotion and terror. At the centre of it all are two incredible performances. Low key and restrained, the young cast are enchanting in their hunger not to be alone, whatever the consequence. Leandersson, in particular, is capable of apparently ageing in the blink of an eye – an effect that flashes her (im)mortality in front of us at her most vulnerable moments, inspiring sympathy as well as shock. This is the beauty of Lindqvist’s inspired creation: Let the Right One In an innocent love story shot through with absolute horror. A haunting meditation on desire and devotion, it’s a work of art, both sinister and sweet, and remains one of the best horrors of the past 15 years.