Let The Right One In Review

The last time I saw a film about an adolescent boy wondering about the vampires who have moved in next door, it starred Chris Sarandon and was called Fright Night. Needless to say, without taking anything away from Tom Holland’s delightful comedy, Let The Right One In is a much more considerable piece of work, capturing a time and place with the kind of crystal clarity that wins Tomas Alfredson a deserved place alongside his Swedish forebears Ingmar Bergman and Lukas Moodysson. Indeed, the tenderness and intelligence of the film makes it not at all dissimilar to Show Me Love and Together, even though the mood is completely different.

Oskar (Hedebrant) is a twelve year old boy living through a particularly painful time of his life. Bullied at school, he lives with his mother is an anonymous suburban sprawl and has no friends. But one day, he meets Eli (Leandersson) who has moved in next door along with a older man. Oskar and Eli become close and Eli encourages the shy boy to stand up to his tormentors at school in return. But Eli and the man are not living a normal life; Eli is a vampire and the older man kills young men in order to supply blood. When Oskar discovers this, his initial shock turns to fascination and the relationship grows deeper as Eli encourages Oskar to “be me for a little while.”

On the surface, there’s nothing particularly unusual here. The modern day vampire story is an old chestnut perhaps best typified by George Romero’s Martin and the close relationship between human and vampire has, of course, recently been done to death by Stephanie Meyer. But the beauty and delicacy of Alfredson’s treatment of the subject is most definitely original and thoroughly disarming. The first thing one notices is how quiet the film is, reflecting the sheer uneventfulness of Oskar’s life. The opening evokes his isolation in a series of short and horribly realistic vignettes and the setting – a snowbound nowhere – is the natural place for a nowhere child. Much credit for this should go to the cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema who uses an icy colour palate and chilly lighting with great skill.

In the midst of this solitude, the relationship between Oskar and Eli seems doubly touching, the warmth of their connection strong enough to melt the snow which surrounds them. Let The Right One In, you see, may be a vampire film at heart but it’s also one of the most truthful films I’ve ever seen about the pains of adolescence, the delicate thrill of first love and the loneliness of being an outsider. The tone is yearning, bittersweet and almost overwhelmingly poignant. Naturally, there is gore and terror but we’re asked to take these in our stride, just as Oskar learns to. Also fascinating is the way in which vampirism is presented as a choice between giving in or surviving – Eli, it’s made clear, is a survivor. So is Oskar and the fact that it’s the more mature figures who give in to sadness, pain and desperation may make this a particularly potent film for younger teenagers and a painful one for adults.

Some viewers may find the film frustratingly slow to get going and it’s true that a certain amount of patience is required. But the rewards for sticking with it are numerous. Horror fans will appreciate the serious and realistic approach to the subject of vampirism – the subject of just how difficult it is to collect blood is dwelt upon in some detail – but may lament the lack of serious scares and the lack of shock moments. Indeed, the bloodletting is often seen from a distance as if its happening at the edge of the story and the more graphic scenes are so powerful in terms of character that one’s awareness of the gore is lessened. However, rest assured that there is at least one classic horror moment during the final scenes which reminded me, oddly, of a scene from Jaws. But it’s perhaps the lack of obvious horror which has allowed the film to be such a crossover success. Equally, the commentary on the ethics of revenge is particularly popular at the moment in films ranging from The Reader to Gran Torino.

John Ajvide Lindqvist’s screenplay, from his book which I haven’t read, is a model of careful structure, building up to a memorable climax and Johan Soderqvist’s music is richly beautiful throughout – although the fullness of the strings sometimes overpowers the delicacy of what’s on screen. Most of all, Tomas Alfredson is clearly a talent to watch after this impressive film. He’s made a number of movies before but none have attracted my attention and this is clearly the work which is going to catapult him to stardom. The news that he is to make a film of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, that most ice-cold of British revenge stories, has me slavering in anticipation.

The Disc

Following a successful cinema release, Momentum have released Let The Right One In on DVD.

The anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer is a beauty, offering a pristine image and a faithful account of the delicate colour palate. Detail is plentiful and there are no problems with unwelcome artifacting or excessive grain. I particularly appreciated the sharp clarity of the frequent night scenes. The Swedish soundtrack is encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1 and is equally impressive. Although many scenes are very much based around the middle channels, the surrounds come into play for the evocative music score and some ambient effects.

The extras consist of a commentary track, some deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer. Taking these in reverse order, the trailer is a hoot for the way in which it manages to misrepresent this poignant and fragile film as some kind of gory thriller. The deleted scenes offer more bullying, which I found woke some long forgotten memories that I’d prefer to forget from my school days, and also flesh out the relationship between Oskar and Eli. Finally, the commentary track is a joint effort between Alfredson and Linqvist and it’s very enjoyable to listen to the two men discuss a project they clearly love.

There are twelve chapter stops and English subtitles for the main feature which cannot be turned off. An audio descriptive track is also available.

Let The Right One In is an unusual and rather beautiful film which deserves a wide audience. Momentum’s DVD offers a fine visual and audio experience and is definitely recommended.

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