Let the Right One In

Format: Cinema

Release date: 10 April 2009

Venues: Cineworld Haymarket, Gate, Curzon Soho, Rio, Ritzy (London) and key cities

Distributor: Momentum Pictures

Director:Tomas Alfredson

Writer: John Ajvide Lindquist (based on his novel)

Original title:

Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar

Sweden 2008

115 mins

According to the established lore, vampires cannot enter a house uninvited. In Let the Right One In, 12-year-old Oskar discovers what happens if a vampire bends the rule when he dares Eli (for all appearances, a 12-year-old girl who has recently moved in next door) to enter his apartment without formally inviting her in. As Eli steps across the threshold, she begins to alarmingly ooze blood from her mouth, nose, eyes and skin pores. Horrified, Oskar hastens to say the magic words and the bleeding stops. In a striking reversal of the tradition, the vampire is not a frightening figure threatening penetration of the victim’s private space, but a vulnerable creature harmed by her friend’s reluctance to trust her. A lonely, passive, sleepy-looking boy who can only dream of revenge against the bullies who torment him at school, Oskar learns that letting in the seemingly dangerous other is the best thing he can do. In Eli, an outsider like him, he finds the possibility of love.

Let the Right One In is one of a recent number of vampire films that have focused primarily on love. Since its appearance in Victorian literature, the vampire has always symbolised socially unacceptable sexual practices and desires, and film adaptations have thoroughly mined the steamy repressed sexuality that underlies Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. But as female desire, lesbian relationships or fellatio, for example, have stopped being seen as risqué subject matter, a preoccupation with love, rather than sex, has become more central to recent revisitations of vampire mythology (although the success of Twilight shows that in the USA’s current neo-Puritan climate at least, the vampire as metaphor for the dangers of teenage sex still has life in it – no pun intended).

Let the Right One In takes the focus on love further than some of the recent vampire films on the subject in that the relationship it centres on is entirely asexual. Even when Oskar and Eli share the same bed one night, there is nothing sexual about it. When Oskar asks Eli to be his girlfriend, it is through the sweetly quaint ‘Want to go steady?’ Eli, whose main objection is that she’s not really a girl, agrees when Oskar explains that it wouldn’t involve anything more than hanging out.

In this, Let the Right One In is close to Guillermo del Toro’s debut feature Cronos (1993), a vampire movie that revolves around the relationship between a little girl, Aurora, and her grand-father. Both Cronos and Let the Right One In are concerned with a love that is not only asexual but also unconditional. In Let the Right One In, Oskar gradually learns to love and accept Eli for what she is, whatever that may be. In Cronos, there is a great tenderness between Aurora and her grandfather and she unquestioningly accepts him, whether human or ghoul, alive or undead.

In both films, it is an imperfect, tainted kind of love: the first time Eli sees Oskar, he is stabbing at a tree with a knife, repeating ‘squeal, pig, squeal’ in a fantasy of revenge against his tormentors. From the start, their relationship is marked by intimations of violence, and in the end their love is indeed sealed in blood. There is an ever-present sense of danger whenever Eli and Oskar are together (subtly maintained through evocative sound effects): her animal nature is revealed early on and we can never be sure that she would not harm him. It is this threat underlying their love that makes the film so touching and melancholy, so real and unsentimental. Let the Right One In, perhaps more subtly than its predecessors in the sub-genre, perfectly captures the nature of love as a delicate and dangerous balancing act, lovers poised for a fleeting, magical moment between need and defiance, trust and menace, sweetness and violence.

Tina Park

This is an edited extract from ‘A Stake Through the Heart: Vampire Love’. Read the whole article as well as an interview with writer John Ajvide Lindqvist in our spring 09 print issue. Focusing on Tainted Love, it includes articles on incestuous cinematic siblings, François Ozon’s tales of tortuous relationships, destructive passion in Nic Roeg’s Bad Timing, Julio Medem‘s ambiguous lovers and nihilistic tenderness from Kôji Wakamatsu. Also in this issue: Interview with Pascal Laugier (Martyrs), the Polish New Wave that never existed and comic strip on the Watchmen film adaptation + much more!

2 thoughts on “LET THE RIGHT ONE IN”

  1. Thomas Alfredson’s film, based on a successful debut novel - the interesting book by John Ajvide Lindqvist – is the unfaithful translation of a faithful betrayal; and it is precisely through such a daedal genesis that this artistic operation offers itself as one of the most striking transpositions of a classical literary horror, ‘Carmilla’ by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Lindqvist is clearly looking at the story published in 1871, imposing on his gothic love story nuances of tender morbidity and an ambiguous sexual characterization of its protagonists, and yet, the crude realism of certain passages, of certain narrative places distance his work from the abstract ‘kammerspiel’ staged by Le Fanu. The screen transposition, signed by Lindqvist himself, has on the contrary suggested a profound rethinking of the plot and its development, such rethinking has the paradoxical merit of having accosted the film to the atmosphere and inspiration of the archetypal 19th century novel. It was chosen for example to reduce the characters – zooming even closer – around the relationship between Oskar and Eli, indispensable interpretative key for the relations weaved with the other characters. At the same time it was opted for – during the writing phase – a more allusive orchestration of the characters and situations able to leave off screen the literal elucidations about the roles and fates of the other participants. Quite significant apropos is the transformation of Hakan who, explicitly described as a paedophile in the book, becomes in the film a sort of Lost Child, a deforming mirror, an aged double for Oskar’s facial features: this doubling acquires sense during the finale when, recalling the beginning of the film, we are left to imagine the old assassin of the first scenes as one of the (many?) Eli’s companions, obsolesced next to the immortal vampire.
    The directing is clearly deployed under this perspective immersing the characters in fixed frames, able to accumulate a hold back tension in situations of congealing motionlessness and cerebral stylization: for instance when the two girls find the corpse of the bloodsucker’s first victim while the protagonist hits one of the bullies in his ear provoking a bloody efflorescence on the white and candid landscape. Only the faces of Eli and Oskar are vitalized by stirred and unstable camera takes that study the transforming physiognomies of adolescents immersed into a black ‘bildungsroman’.
    These very qualities - representing the most remarkable formal data of an imperfect product that remains fascinating in its essential design - accost the film to Le Fanu’s tones: the exclusive relationship between Carmilla and Laura, the stillness of the plot, the absolute present time of the story, in relation to which the ‘before’ and the ‘after’ are allusively disguised in the form of an impenetrable past and an impossible future, without ever mentioning the two temporal dimensions. Coldly trapped into an endless present time Oskar and Eli’s relationship disquietingly alternates passionate élans to calculating iciness. If in ‘Carmilla’ the vampire seduces a young girl, in ‘Let the Right One In’ Eli falls for a boy whose bodily characterization is not casually fairly feminine and oppressed by a society of (little) men to which Oskar cannot adapt. Is Eli in fact to possess, symbolically, from behind, during the night when they decide, with an exquisite infantile seriousness, to go steady; and it is Eli again to, manly, resolve the consequences of Oskar’s weaknesses in the unaccomplished ending that nonetheless remains coherent with the film. Doing so, the mirror game that governs the gothic myth of Le Fanu - two girls that looking at each other, strangely, sinisterly, recognize themselves - is re-enacted in ‘Let The Right One In’: a feminine boy glares himself unto a masculine girl and suddenly sees his self for the first time. Not casually the film begins and finish with Oskar touching his specular image on the glass: in this process of maturation - which is essentially the acceptation of his violent half - lies the greatest affinity between Lindqvist’s story and ‘Carmilla’. It is through the awareness of a wicked humanity via Eli’s eyes that Oskar accepts the sanguinary side of his subdued temperament.

  2. Should I admit I watched this DVD six times in 2 weeks – despite the fact the English subtitles differ markedly from the original theatrical subtitles? Despite the fact the English language dubbing is far from the best? (They did at least read from the theatrical subtitles.)

    Each time I start this I think, Too slow. Too cheap. Too quiet. Too static. But I’m soon hooked and marveling at the fact it’s over already.

    This movie is not perfect but it has haunted me like no other.

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