LET THE RIGHT ONE IN
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Kare Hedebrant,
Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar
Director: Thomas Alfredson
Audio: DTS HD 5.1 Swedish and English
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Magnolia Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 115 Minutes
Release Date: March 10, 2009
“Are you a vampire?”
The vampire movie has been a staple of horror in cinema ever since Murnau terrified audiences with his grotesque and expressionistic masterpiece Nosferatu. Many films have come and gone since then, and audiences always seem to warm to them, finding the vampire either charming, heroic, tragic or more. But the films tend to follow similar formulas, only with an occasional new ingredient thrown in here and there. I don’t think any vampire movie has seriously challenged filmgoers in many, many decades.
Or, I used to think so. Who would have thought in a year that made the anticipated but oft-panned Twilight a blockbuster success that a modest little movie from Sweden would quietly become one of the most original, hypnotic and haunting horror films ever made? The intriguingly titled Let the Right One In showed that there was indeed new territory to explore in the age old saga of the bloodsucking undead. And the result was not only one of the best fright movies of recent memory, it also stands as one of the decade’s truly great movies.
It focuses on a couple of melancholy kids in Sweden. Oskar (Hedebrant) comes from a broken home and has terrible bully problems. He fantasizes, as most kids in that situation would, about fighting back in horrific ways. But his life is anything but a fantasy.
One night, he runs into a new neighbor outside their small apartment complex. Eli (Leandersson) is also a sad child, strikingly pale (even for Sweden), seemingly never cold despite walking barefoot in the snow, and never seen out during the day.
Their friendship blossoms slowly, though we can see before Oskar that Eli is indeed a vampire. She lives with a strange man (Ragnar) who helps her, getting her blood so that she doesn’t have to kill. Sometimes, when she hasn’t feasted in a while, her eyes are dark and she smells bad. Other times, her eyes are almost luminescent, and she seems as bright as the sun on the snow in Scandinavia.
She offers Oskar advice on dealing with bullies, but her insatiable need for blood begins to leave a mark on the town. And thankfully, unlike most vampire movies, we don’t get the origin stories or the explanations. Everything is driven by character. Eli doesn’t hunt because she enjoys it…she simply must.
The relationship between her and Oskar is really the heart of the movie, which is what makes the film so haunting and intelligent. It could have just as easily been about any two normal kids trying to be resilient in the face of a world that has little use for them, but using the vampire angle makes both elements much more dramatic and intensely satisfying. You never even see a pair of fangs in this film.
Director Thomas Alfredson used a unique approach to unique material. Whereas in America, we’ve been overrun by loud, obnoxious, gory remakes of once-great and not-so-great classics, this is a quiet, thoughtful film that takes it’s time, allows us to focus our minds and hearts, and offers us a completely mesmerizing though decidedly dark movie that really stays with us. The performances from his two young leads are astonishing; a lot of weight is resting on their young shoulders, but both are talented and dedicated enough to carry it off quite perfectly.
I admire this film for its willingness to forgo the usual blood guts and mayhem approach to modern horror and instead travel into truly dark and unsettling waters and take chances by crafting scenes with young kids that you just don’t expect to see. There is an ethereal quality to the images, story and performances that transcends all the normal formulas and rewrites them into something that will no doubt set the bar for a very long time to come.
I wouldn’t have guessed, but so far, this is the best looking Blu-ray I’ve seen this year. The transfer is striking because of the cinematography, which, oddly enough, tends to avoid a lot of color. There’s plenty of snow, and even interiors are bright…in other words, when a splash of ‘red’ comes in, the effect is quite striking. But the detail levels are constantly amazing. Snow isn’t just a mass of white, but intricate and realistic, and light and dark scenes come through with stunning clarity. Absolutely masterful.
You can choose either original Swedish or English dubbed DTS HD soundtracks…my advice is to go with the Swedish; the dubbing is a little distracting. But as with all horror, sound is important, and thankfully, this isn’t the kind of movie that goes for the cheap startling noise, but rather, creates ambience with everything from pure silence to pure chaos. A nice touch is the clever use of how things sound when you’re underwater…enough said.
There are four deleted scenes, a brief production featurette, and a photo and poster gallery. One word of advice: don’t watch the featurette BEFORE you see the movie, but definitely check it out after to see how a couple of amazing shots were created.
Let the Right One In should be considered one of the best movies of 2008, horror or otherwise. It’s definitely one of the greatest and most original films I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s disturbing, haunting, brilliant and ultimately completely unforgettable.