So how do you sell a slow-burn Swedish drama about a 12-year-old boy and his peculiar love interest to cinema goers? You tell them it’s a vampire movie of course! Everyone loves vampire movies, or at least you would assume so considering the sheer volume of fanged films hitting cinemas each week. Unfortunately, tween pap-tacular Twilight has become the signature film of the coffin-dwelling-genre. That film grossly mistook the vampire mythos, leaning away from the blood-sucking, and instigating some extreme soul-sapping.
So it’s with great apprehension that I categorise Tomas Alfredson’s blood-stained fantasy Let The Right One In as “a vampire movie”. It’s a shame really, because Alfredson’s masterpiece is one of the most haunting, touching and frightening films of the year. It is such a unique and special movie, it can barely be captured in praise of the greatest exaggeration. Synopsis proves inadequate in describing the intangibly beautiful moments and continually surprising turn of events.
The film stars the uncannily talented youngsters Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson as Oskar and Eli. Oskar is a twelve-year-old boy with no friends, who has unluckily become the focus of some viciously cruel bullies. Eli is his new neighbour, an odd young girl with deep eyes and a funny smell. The two meet for the first time at the snow-covered jungle gym in front of their shared apartment complex. Eli takes to Oskar immediately, noting his inescapable sweetness, and the growing anger inside of him. Oskar is less forthcoming at first – but lonely boys fall in love quickly.
It’s obvious to any sentient audience member right away that Eli is a vampire. However, the film takes it’s time to reveal her true nature. In fact, very little is surrendered easily. The beginning of the picture is full of half-scenes; hints at what will eventually provide a significant payoff. Eli is at first animalistic in her desire for human blood. Her father/slave/former lover (?) Hakan stalks young boys at night, strings them upside down, and drains their blood for his charge waiting at home. Too many failed expeditions force Eli to take matters into her own fangs. The sight of a young girl viciously slaughtering and supping the blood of a full grown man is not one you forget quickly. However, her plight is eventually revealed to be one of basic survival. By the end of the film, you’re willing to throw her a pubescent corpse every now and then.
The blood is obviously too large a plot point to ignore – and the film doesn’t attempt to hide it. However, Alfredson is far more concerned with the relationship between Oskar and Eli. The screenplay has been adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his own bestselling novel, and it’s a masterwork of subtlety and silence. So much is said between the two in the quietest of moments; playing with a Rubik’s cube; tapping Morse code between dividing walls. A love story between two children should not be this convincing. Oskar never seems to mind too much that Eli is a vampire; in fact, he doesn’t even mind too much when he discovers she’s not really even a girl. That’s love.
Let The Right One In is relentless in its horror. The body count is high, and the blood flows readily. In fact, with the exception of some poorly judged CGI-cats, the film is peerless in its restrained terror. Conversely, Alfredson and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema wring every possible ounce of beauty from the Swedish landscape, like so much sweet juice from a nubile young boy’s artery (what?). The film is a bevy of contradictions – beauty and horror, young love and violence, innocence and guilt. The fact that it works at all is impressive. The fact that it’s a mind-blowing sensory experience is inexplicable.
The film’s climax is brutal, necessary, encouraged and repulsive all at once. When that scene arrives (and you will know which one), you will find it difficult to talk about anything else, for days to come. So for more reasons than can ever be expressed in a single review, Let The Right One In is perfect. And that’s why audiences should be drawn to this slow-burn Swedish drama.
Let the Right One In is currently playing in limited release in Melbourne and Sydney. It hits Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane on April 23rd.