starring Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson
directed by Tomas Alfredson
written by John Ajvide Lindqvist
released in 2008
After hearing a lot of praise for both the novel--and the Swedish film adaptation--I had a chance to read John Lindqvist's Let the Right One In earlier this year and was blown away by how good it was (you can read that review here). I became very interested in watching this movie afterwards, but foreign films aren't exactly hot commodities in my neck of the woods, so it seemed more likely that I'd see the American remake before ever seeing the Swedish original. Fortunately, my library came to the rescue yet again.
A great aspect of this vampire film is that the vampirism isn't flagrantly announced until late in the film, it's essentially taken on observation of Eli's behavior as Oskar gets to know her--and the stark scenes Eli shares with her serial-killer companion. But, just like the book, this isn't strictly a vampire story. Rather, it's a story about a troubled boy's struggles with bullying and his own simmering violence as he grows up in a broken home. It's through Eli and discovering that she is capable of viciousness for the sake of her own survival that Oskar sees an outlet for his own problems--as a protector and as a friend.
The winter setting is so well captured on film too. One of the first scenes involves Håkan, the serial killer who collects blood for Eli to feed on so she doesn't have to hunt for herself and risk being seen. After subduing a passerby and hanging him upsidedown from a tree, he commences to drain him of his blood like he might stick a pig, only to be interrupted by a large white poodle. The crunching of the snow as Håkan flees, and the fog escaping everyone's breath, not to mention the dog casually lapping up the blood from underneath the hanging corpse, all add to a tremendous precursor of what to expect from the tone of the movie.
The movie isn't wrapped in a lot of heartpounding tension, but relies more on those seeping moments of dread when you have a pretty clear sense of what's coming and certain characters are powerless to prevent it. The movie is quite streamlined compared to the book, which is to be expected given it's a movie. Despite certain scenes and characters being omitted, I didn't get the sense that anything vital was missing. The movie stands very well on its own.
The story is set in Sweden during the early 80s, and while I haven't a clue about how authentic that era is presented on screen, I remember being close to that age in the 80s and some of the fashion choices are spot on. There's a certain look to this film at certain points that really reminded me of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, which may simply be because it's about a young boy experiences some wildly supernatural shit. But when you see scenes like Oskar sneaking up behind a vengeful drunk who is looking to kill Eli, the palpable terror is all over the place. And the bully scenes are just pitch perfect, as far as I'm concerned.
This is, quite simply, the kind of movie I would point to whenever a detractor of the horror genre demanded I name a movie of merit. And the fact that it deals with the well-worn trope of vampires is even sweeter in that regard.