What makes Let The Right One In so special is that it stands alone from its peers in the horror genre. It is a Swedish masterpiece that feels more like a work of cinema from Wim Wenders or Robert Bresson than that of John Carpenter or Wes Craven.
Nine years ago, my friends and I went to Blockbusters, a Friday night ritual where we would rent out a horror and a comedy. We would watch the horror first, scare ourselves silly, and rectify our life choice by following it with a comedy so we could at least attempt to sleep. Usually either the horror or the comedy would be a terrible choice, but conveniently never both. One Friday night in 2009 changed everything though. We rented Let The Right One In and were in total silence when it ended. We had all just witnessed greatness. This was more than fear. This was awe. This was empathy. This was so inspiring we refused to watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Let The Right One In is as much about youth and dealing with loneliness as it is vampires. It is a lesson in trust, friendship, and love. It captures the isolation and hopelessness of both its protagonists Oskar and Eli so perfectly, that their anger and bloodlust seems justified. It is the combined visions of director Tomas Alfredson, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, and writer John Ajvide Lindqvist that successfully creates a sparse and minimal insight into the lives of a working-class suburbia, a vision that transcends the Swedish landscape. The observation is universal – a 12-year-old raised by a single mother, a distant drunken father, the child being horrifically bullied at school leading to dreams of revenge, and a juvenile friendship that sees no prejudice and asks no questions. And then, let’s not forget, the epic addition of being a vampire film.
The introduction of the character Håkan is also a masterstroke. Although ambiguous, he appears to be a father figure to Eli and the perfect antithesis to Oskar’s. He is a man that would risk anything for Eli, a man that would literally kill and die for her, a character that represents hope and unrequited love in a bleak world for children.
Let The Right One In was described as a “kitchen sink fantasy” by Göran Everdahl, which could only have been a more perfect description if he had not missed the opportunity to have called it a “kitchen sink-your teeth-in fantasy” – but perhaps this belittles the sincerity of his point. All the same, this film truly expresses authenticity, a reality in its characters and its cinematography unrivalled by works in the coming-of-age genre. It is this sense of believability that eventually scares the living daylights of you, because you feel this could actually happen. You have bonded with the children, you identify with or long for the protective nature of Håkan, you despise the sadism of the bullies until you glimpse their lack of understanding, boredom, and innocence in the infamous swimming pool scene, and you ache for the wellbeing of Oskar and Eli as the credits roll. The true fear in this film is not the blood, the flames, or the death, but instead that the children will not escape the horrible fate bestowed upon them by the World they live in.