This is the first part of a three part look at the Swedish film “Let The Right One In” and it’s American remake “Let Me In.” Part two is a review of “Let Me In,” and part three looks at both together. I plan to do my best to keep the two film reviews independent of each other, but do forgive me if I fail. I would also like to acknowledge that I have not read the original novel, though I plan to in the future. This commentary is based solely on the films and some trivia found online.
Låt den rätte komma in (2008)
Starring: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar
Directed by: Thomas Alfredson
Written by: John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on his novel
Let The Right One In is one of those rare films that comes along every few years. It’s been described as “transcending genres” and it truly does. At it’s heart, it’s a coming-of-age story for a 12 year-old boy outside Stockholm in 1982. It’s about the girl who gives him the confidence to make that lead towards manhood, and their incredibly unique relationship. It’s also about that girl, and her unique situation – she’s a vampire.
To get it out of the way right now – yes, the story does have gore and violence. What is unique about it is the portrayal of the violence. It’s not a central aspect to the story – the fact that the violence occurs is extremely important, but the violence itself isn’t. So few filmmakers actually understand that difference anymore. When violence happens on-screen, it’s hidden in shadows and behind object. It’s just as violent, but not as graphic.
Oskar (Hedebrant) is a 12 year-old boy living outside Stockholm in 1982. His parents are separated and Oskar’s relationship with both is strained. His father is an alcoholic and his mother is barely there for him. He spends his days alone and getting bullied at school by Conny and his two cronies. At night, still alone, Oskar pretends to exact revenge on Conny with a small knife and a tree. He stabs the tree violently, telling it to “Squeal like a pig,” just as Conny does to him.
Into this solitary existence comes Eli (Leandersson), a mysterious girl who moves in next door with an old man, Håkan. Eli and Oskar meet one night on the jungle gym in the courtyard. The meeting is quiet, uneventful, but a strong attraction is immediately formed.
The next night Oskar shares his Rubik’s cube with Eli and it, essentially, becomes their first date. As Oskar and Eli grow their friendship, Håkan is attempting to collect blood to feed Eli – being a vampire and all – but he is old, and getting sloppy. His first attempt fails when he is almost discovered by a pair of hikers. Eli is furious and murders one of the neighbors.
Håkan’s mishaps continue, increasing tension amongst the neighbors and setting in motion a series of events that could end up destroying Eli. Oskar runs into more severe bullying at school, and at Eli’s urging hits back at Conny, nearly tearing Connys ear off when he does so. Eli works to stay alive while building her relationship with Oskar. Then Oskar discovers that Eli is a vampire.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the movie, because it is very unpredictable. Though “unpredictable” isn’t quite the right word – it’s something to experience. It’s a unique film-going experience to live part of the relationship between a 12 year-old boy struggling to become a man and a vampire struggling to stay human.
The performances of two young actors are amazing. They are more subtle than most performances these days, and the fact that both actors were 12 or 13 when it was filmed makes it even more amazing. Hedebrant is especially good at portraying the conflicted Oskar. The inner struggle with loneliness and trying to be noticed by the right people is there in his stance, his facial expressions, the way he talks.
The direction is what makes the movie a real gem. The pace is even, which builds just the right amount of tensions at the right moments as you wait for the event to unfold. Alfredson takes some amazing risks with his camera angles and perspective, often leaving the vast majority of the frame out of focus, or moving the camera to a position where the action is outside the frame.
In the end, the film is one of the few that actually live up to the title of “transcending genres.” It is a coming-of-age tale. It is a vampire tale. And it’s surprisingly touching.
(As a side note, to those who are looking to purchase a copy of the film, make sure you read the article below regarding the subtitles and pay attention to what release you are purchasing. There is a drastic and unfortunate difference in the UK/European and American releases.)
The subtitle controversy: http://iconsoffright.com/news/2009/03/let_the_wrong_subtitles_in_to.html