Note: Since Michael and I reviewed the new movie LET ME IN yesterday for Cinema Knife Fight, I figured it might be a good time to post my review of the original film from November 2008, when LET THE RIGHT ONE IN was in limited release in theaters in the U.S. Looking back at my comments about the older film, it’s interesting just how close the two films really are, except for a few name changes. ~LLS
REVIEW: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)
by L. L. Soares
This past Friday, as the first big snowstorm of the winter howled outside, I was inside a small, warm art-house theater, watching a movie where the snow was just as prevalent. The movie was LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. It is in limited release, but if there’s a chance it’s playing near you, do yourself a favor and go see it.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is the story of Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) a pale, skinny kid who doesn’t seem to have any friends and who is regularly picked on by bullies at school. Oskar feels pretty isolated in the world, especially since his parents split up. He spends his time between living in a housing project with his mom, and visits to his dad’s house (which seems to be in the middle of nowhere). Everywhere, there is snow. While playing outside (well, actually, stabbing a tree and pretending it’s one of his bullies), Oskar comes across a new neighbor, Eli (Lina Leandersson). She’s about his age and he saw her and her father Hakan (Per Ragnar) arrive in the middle of the night. These new people are strange. The father immediately taped cardboard across the windows, to keep the sun out, and they only come out at night. Oskar is willing to overlook all this, though, for the sake of finally having a friend.
In Eli, Oskar sees someone finally willing to give him a chance to be himself. She sees the same in him. Hakan has some weird hobbies, including tying people up and cutting their throats to fill up a big plastic container with their blood. At first, it appears that he might be a vampire, but he’s way too inept for that. More than once he almost gets caught, and when he finally does get discovered, he burns his face with acid (a pretty horrific effect). But it soon becomes clear that he isn’t Eli’s father at all. In fact, their relationship is a disturbing one. He goes out and gets blood for her, and clearly there is a reason why he is so loyal to her, but we’re never told what, which keeps things extra creepy (but you can guess).
When Hakan is taken from her (actually, she drinks his blood and tosses him out a window when he’s no longer of use to her), she seeks someone new to help her and protect her secret, and that person might just be Oskar. In the meantime, she has to feed herself, which means attacking adults in the dark. This is risky, and a few times she almost gets captured. It isn’t easy being a vampire in a child’s body. It’s never clear how old Eli is. She lives as a 12-year old girl, but she is clearly much older than that (it’s hinted that she may be as old as 100). In certain scenes, her face momentarily changes to that of an old woman (an old man?), before it returns to the knowing child’s face again. There is even a question about whether Eli is in fact a girl at all. She is clearly played by a female actress. But the character tells Oskar several times that she “is not a girl.” Does she simply mean that her appearance is deceiving, and she is really an old woman despite looking like a young girl? Or is something more disturbing afoot? A startling scene toward the end, when Oskar peeks at Eli changing her clothes, adds more fuel to the mystery.
There are several other interesting scenes, including one of Eli’s victims who survives and begins to turn into a vampire herself. And another scene where Eli tells Oskar he has to invite her in to his house in order for her to cross the threshold. When he laughs at her and demands she enter without his invitation (“What could possibly happen?”), she learns the hard way that it’s probably a good idea to play by the rules.
Director Tomas Alfredson and screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist (who adapted his own novel) give us a small, dark film that somehow seems much larger than it really is. For the most part, the movie is rather subtle, but there are some jarring violent/gory scenes as well. Almost every relationship Eli has is strange, which is understandable considering she is a vampire. However, this movie makes vampires disturbing in ways Hollywood films rarely do. Her scenes with Oskar are very human, but then we’ll be treated to startling sequences where she rapidly climbs up the side of a building, or leaps from a bridge onto a passing victim (and Eli is ravenous for blood: she doesn’t just suck it; she gorges herself on it. Her mouth is a red mess in the scenes where she feeds), and it is clear that this is not your typical art-house film at all.
Eli convinces Oskar to finally stand up to his bullies, and when he does (hitting the lead bully – a twerp named Conny – across the ear with a stick), it actually ratchets up the violence, as Conny turns to his delinquent (possibly psychotic) older brother to exact his revenge. But Oskar is no longer alone in the world.
The ending is very powerful. Just how far will Oskar go to guard their secret and protect Eli from the world? And how far will Eli go to protect Oskar in turn? These are the questions posed by what is easily one of the best films I’ve seen all year, and the best vampire film I’ve seen in ages. If it’s not playing near you, definitely seek it out when it’s released on DVD. Simply an excellent film. (in Swedish with English subtitles)
© Copyright 2008 by L.L. Soares