Let The Right One In (Lat Den Ratte Komma In), Dir. Tomas Alfredson (2008)

From left: Kare Hedebrant as Oskar and Lena leandersson as Eli

Kare Hedebrant as Oskar and Lena leandersson as Eli

Rating: 5 and a half /6

This is a horror film but not your average horror film, call it instead a social-realist horror film. It manages to take the tired genre of the vampire film and make it seem fresh and full of new possibilities.

Based on John Ajvide Lindgvist’s novel, who also wrote the screenplay. It puts the vampire Eli (a beguiling and brilliant Lina Leandersson) into the context of early 80’s Swedish suburbia, (though the 80’s is certainly not important or seen through a nostalgic lens, even the music is in fact all original to the film written by a member of Roxette to sound like 80’s music) and ties it into a coming-of-age love-story between Oskar (Kare Hedebrant also engaging) and Eli.

This may seem similar to the recent Twilight but I think in this case the story is told with a lot more panache and a lot less cliched romanticism (though I will admit here that I haven’t seen Twillight so I can’t say this definitively).

The relationship between Eli and Oskar is well-done and played with sensitivity and great direction of the child actors. A lot is done with gestures and looks rather than words (the dialogue is in fact quite sparse throughout) as they slowly build up a relationship after both being isolated from others. It becomes more of a tale of outsiders coming together than it does a film about vampires.

This is highlighted in the fact that the CGI effects on Eli are subtle, only her eyes and jawline change slightly when she becomes hungry. You never see her fangs and you never see her actually fly. it is only ever hinted at, while the scene where there is most violence you don’t see Eli doing it. We also see the practical problems of being a vampire, for instance when she eats the sweets Oskar offers her and then promptly thows up. This makes Eli more real and much less fantastical.

There is a sense that her vampirism is like a disease or condition more than something supernatural. In this way I would say the love story is comparable to the one seen in the brilliant XXY (2007), where the teenager is an isolated hermaphrodite who  strikes up a relationship, against all odds, with another teenager also a loner.

Of course another theory that can said and was put forward by Alfredson (after this particular showing there was a screen talk) is that Eli is Oskar’s fantasy a way of dealing with his isolation and inhibited anger and frustration with the bullies,  which Eli gets him to unleash eventually wacking Conny with  a stick.

What is also done well is this sense of isolation Oskar feels. The first scene in which we see Oskar he is pretending to stab the kids, led by the ruthless Conny (Patrik Rydmark) that constantly bully him throughout the film. We see how  friendless he is at school and also the fact that his parents barely give him the attention he needs.

His mother seems to be somewhere-else a lot of the time or just preoccupied. For instance she accepts without question Oskar’s unconvincing allibi that he hurt himself slipping on a rock, when  it was Conny who hit him. While his dad appears in only one short scene and doesn’t really say anything.

This sense of inattention is even reflected in Oskar’s gym teacher (a comic Ingemar Raukola) who reads the newspaper while Oskar struggles with weights. And is somewhere-else, diverted by a fire caused by the bullies, when Conny’s brother enters the school swimming-pool and nearly drowns him before Eli comes into rescue him.

There is also quite a lot of black humour (which seem to be a particularly Scandavian thing) throughout the film which Alfredson has sometimes deliberately put in. For instance Eli’s helper Hakan (Per Ragnar) who secures blood for her, is  in the book a strong efficient killer. In the film he is nervous and comically inept, getting discovered by a poodle when we first see him draining the blood of a corpse.

The cinematography is also fantastic, poetic and haunting portaying perfectly the small  snowed-in community Oskar lives in and the ugliness and bareness of Oskar’s estate with only a small jungle gym (where Eli and Oskar meet) beside it.

There are a few flaws such as Oskar’s very subdued reaction to the extreme violence that Eli sometimes causes, and it did leave me wanting to know more about Eli and the situation with Oskar’s parents (though maybe this is a good thing). But overall this is a film that is haunting, funny, moving and horrific all at the same time and leaves a lasting impression, don’t miss it.

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