Vampires are big business these days. Walk into a Barnes & Noble and you’ll be greeted with the sullen emo kids of TWILIGHT. Ditto for the multiplex which churned out the film version of TWILIGHT to the tune of $384M worldwide. Flip on the television or simply drive through the streets of Los Angeles and see nothing but TRUE BLOOD advertisements. The entertainment industry has tapped into a demand that it has been more than happy to meet. Whether it be vampires disguised as a Harlequin Romance Novel (TWILIGHT) or a hyper-sexualized blood orgy (TRUE BLOOD) the entertainment spectrum is not starving for un-dead material. Amid the torrent of vampire tales came 2008’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, a Swedish film based on a book of the same name. Do not mistake LET THE RIGHT ONE IN for the aforementioned Vamp flicks though.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is the story of Oskar and Eli, both around age 12 (we’re not sure about Eli). Oskar is ruthlessly abused and mocked at school by a pack of bullies. At night Oskar takes a stroll outside his apartment complex to indulge in revenge fantasies by attacking a tree with a knife. Oskar’s world is one of isolation, thrust into the rigors of adolescence with no friends to lean on. Soon, his lonely nights exploring his building’s courtyard are interrupted by Eli, who immediately informs him “we can’t be friends.” However, unlike the relationships typical of the genre, their bond is not one of lust but of need.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN works as a human story so well that it would have made a great coming-of-age film even if we never found out that Eli was a vampire. Though Eli is sweet and tender with Oskar, Director Tomas Alfredson does not hold back in showing how violent she can be when she has a hankering for blood. Eli attacks several times in the film and each time is sudden and brutal. Horror fans will be pleased with the masterful direction in these scenes as the film is able to take a character we’re fond of and make us terrified of her. Eli breaks the vampire movie mold by being neither one-dimensional or hyper-sexualized (in fact, she may not necessarily be a woman at all). Killing for blood is not something she relishes in.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is also gorgeous to look at. Each shot feels meticulously constructed. The lighting is extreme, featuring harsh bright lights during the day and stark blacks at night. The climax of the film is a stunner, shot brilliantly using the rule of showing us less to give us more. The baron landscape allows Alfredson to focus in on the two 12 year olds who give wonderful performances. Alfredson pulls off a remarkable feat in balancing the touching moments between the two kids and the terror of the vampire attacks.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN isn’t a “big” film. I recall only one scene that contained CGI, but it is forgiven due to its use of demonic cats. As usual with classic foreign films, Hollywood has already begun production on an American remake to be directed by Matt Reeves (CLOVERFIELD). They’ve already changed the title to “LET ME IN” and it’s likely the soul of the film will be ripped to shreds. Whatever abomination that film becomes (I predict Nicolas Cage and Megan Fox will be cast as the two 12 year olds) it will not tarnish the greatness of the original, which I believe is the best vampire film of all time.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is available on DVD.