Recommended Viewing Situation:
Sitting in a cabin in a Scandinavian wood on a November night, while snow gently falls. Garlic hangs on the door, there is a crucifix on every wall and a large wooden stake rests casually in your hand.
Running Time: 114 minutes.
Format: 35mm film on Arriflex 535B, Zeiss Super Speed Lenses.
Director: Tomas Alfredson.
Writers: John Ajvide Lindqvist
Cinematographer: Hoyte Van Hoytema.
Awards: Nominated for the BAFTA; Best Film Not in the English Language and more.
Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a quiet, sensitive child living in a featureless block of flats. He is friendless and spends his time reading and taking a morbid interest in recent, local murders. Eli (Lina Leanderssen), also lonesome and unusual, moves next door and after an awkward first meeting in the excuse for a playground in the shadow of the flats, they become friends. Eli’s eccentricity is revealed as more complex than shyness and an aptitude for solving puzzles, but Oskar embraces her oddities, however bizarre or horrific.
Set and filmed in Sweden, ‘Let the Right One In’ has a backdrop of gloom. Winter seems interminable, happiness seems in short supply and tempers are frayed. However, scenes of falling snow, sometimes in woods, with spindly trees that are almost shivering, are offered prettily and until the snow is sullied with the red of spilt blood, they provide a break from the greyness. The latter works, however and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema creates a perfect mood of foreboding. Close shots throughout build tension; just when you need the camera to pan out, to prepare for a potentially scary moment, you are deprived of the fuller picture and furthermore, use of close-angle shots leads you into tense-filled moments of second-guessing characters’ moves. At times, an unfamiliar activity is carried out at close range, which adds to the mystery. Composer Johan Soderqvist provides delicate music on the piano or guitar which plays on your sympathies to see things from a different, uncomfortable perspective. When it matters, there is powerful silence.
Hedebrant and Leanderssen are excellent choices for the children. Hedebrant’s shiny, straight, fair hair and pale skin give him a pure, innocent demeanour, in sharp contrast with Leanderssen’s dark, unkempt curls. The former plays Oskar in an understated manner, accepting of his lot, as children often are in the face of adversity. The latter makes a striking, moody Eli; sometimes being a believable child; at other times seeming middle-aged with a face worn from woe and the trammels of time. The stars of the bullying sub-plot are convincing, giving a sinister hint of plot development and the supporting cast of locals provides story padding and strong cameo roles.
Director Tomas Alfredson’s choices of special effects and stunts are well-timed, frugal and in the absence of any horror theatrics, shockingly real. Common rules associated with vampires are adhered to; Oskar’s questioning of what may happen if a vampire ignores the rule of invitation gives rise to an impressive, if unexpected effect.
Not my favourite sub-genre, ‘Let the Right One In’ had some ground to make up but this is a movie I would recommend. Making you question what you need from a relationship and covering themes such as revenge and loyalty, it is about more than vampires. Austere scenery, sometimes silently charming with snow, gives it an appealing darkness. Against the odds, you become attached to the main protagonist by careful selection of storyline, clever direction and strong characterisation. For vampire lovers … or not.