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CLASSICS: Let the Right One In (2008) ****

September 26, 2010


written by: John Ajvide Lindqvist

produced by: Carl Molinder & John Nordling

directed by: Tomas Alfredson

rated R (for some bloody violence including disturbing images, brief nudity and language)

114 min.

U.S. release date: October 24, 2008 (limited)

DVD/Bluray release date: March 10, 2009


By the time I had finally caught up with “(Låt den rätte komma in) Let the Right One In” on DVD, it had spent about a year in various film festivals building acclaimed momentum. It had become known as that must-see “Swedish vampire film”, one that defies any genre conventions. But calling this chilling, mesmerizing, and unsettling film a vampire film or a genre film does it a disservice. After seeing the film several times now, I would guess that whoever describes the film as such either hasn’t seen it or didn’t really understand all that they had seen. Yes, there is a vampire here but this is also one of those rare films that can be categorized in a variety of genres, if you have to categorize it at all. 

John Ajvide Lindqvist adapted the screenplay from his own 2004 bestselling novel of the same name, after learning that director Tomas Alfredson had developed an interest in bringing the novel to the big-screen. Changes for a film adaptation are inevitable, so it seems right when any deletions or alterations are made by the actual writer of the source material. Seeing this film, the end result of this symbiotic union between two Swedes, it is clear they were on the same page. Together they gleaned the most powerful and effective elements from the book, integrating them into the quiet winter of Blackeberg, in the western suburbs of Stockholm circa 1982.

The story focuses on twelve year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) who lives with his mother in an apartment complex. He is quiet, sombre, and has a knack for collecting newspaper clippings detailing local murders. He is also continuously bullied by a handful of classmates (his morbid interest in killings is likely a personal retaliation to this) and dreams of exacting revenge on them, yet dares not ever bring such dreams to life. Oskar spends his evenings hanging out in the courtyard of his home, just him and his cold breath, until one night he meets Eli.


She (Lina Leandersson) is a mysterious pale girl who has moved into the apartment next door to him with an older man named Håkan (Per Ragnar). She too frequents the jungle gym in the evenings and it is there that the two meet.  Oskar learns they are the same age and begins to gain confidence as they slowly and tentatively.begin to develop a friendship.  The two learn more about each other, Eli helping Oskar with his bully problem and Oskar helping Eli feel normal, providing a needed companion. Still, there is something about Eli, maybe it’s her vampirism.

When the paranoia amid the residents of the community rises, it becomes obvious that something is killing off the locals. In such a small town, it will only be a matter of time before the murderer is identified. While the town continues to fall into a panic, Oskar and Eli seem ignorant to it all, finding solace in each other and entrusting secrets neither has shared with anyone else.

This is a film that, upon first viewing, will entrance you with its inventive power as it extraordinarily balances several moods in an exemplary level. There is the gentle story of friendships, both with Oskar and Eli, and Eli and Håkan, that is examined with both tenderness and heightened awkwardness. There is levity and sweetness in the relationship Oskar has with his divorced parents and as we empathize with the bullied boy we also rejoice with his newfound courage to fight back. There is also the story of how Oskar comes to discover who Eli really is, told in such a way that never once exhibits the lazy exposition we often see in vampire films. How many times have we heard the rules of what vampires can and cannot do or what they need to survive? Here, Lindqvist and Alfredson show us all that without having a character list it all off for us. They allow the audience to follow along and discover what is being shown, therefore respecting viewers and their ability to be enraptured by powerful storytelling is rare.

Two noteworthy filmmaking factors elevate “Let the Right One In” and that is the cinematography and the sound (both its score and effects) which equally bring an artful take to the story. From the stark snowscapes to the long takes on expression and behavior, each still created by Hoyte Van Hoytema becomes a photograph to behold. He and Alfredson successfully establish and maintain the appropriate mood to match what is being shown on-screen. This is delicately accented by Swedish composer Johan Söderqvist, who, with the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra, provides a soundtrack that bring together melancholy and building intensity. There’s also some Swedish pop interjected here and there but Söderqvist’s strings, both ominous and gentle, memorably weave throughout the film. It’s not a score that plays for the typical shocks you may see in a horror film, instead it implies hope and romance that contrast what transpires.  


Alfredson knows he is fortunate to be blessed with such talent in his two leads. These first-timers have a commanding presence that feels utterly real and believable. At no time do either of them come across like they are acting or mugging for the camera. Hedebrant’s blank expressions provide just as haunting a soul as Leandersson’s blood-stained chin. She handles the burden of her curse while exhibiting a curious nature that is almost alien-like. They both react instead of overact and the story is more convincing because of their delivery. There is heart and soul in their work, something that cannot be found in the vacant and vapid talent shown in the popular “Twilight” film adaptations. This film pursues something more than adapting typical soap opera customs to a horror genre. It’s hard enough to find a relevant and honest portrayal of tween angst but this is a superb exception.  I’m well aware there is an audience for everything, so for those who truly tire of films that lack originality, this is for you.

Upon repeated viewings, you can really only marvel at how all of this can be found in one film. What you see may shock and provoke you but undoubtedly it is easy to be impressed with the creative craftsmanship that Alfredson and his company display. He gives a welcome freshness to a genre that has been around for decades while offered a compelling characterization of adolescence. From start to finish, it is one of the most haunting and hypnotic cinematic experiences of the past decade.




CLASSICS is a Keeping It Reel feature that sheds light on past and present films which are considering “classics” by Paul and David. Some are award-winners while others could be seldom seen films that demand your attention. 


17 Comments leave one →
  1. mATtHEw gRAmITh permalink
    September 26, 2010 11:46 pm

    About a year ago or so I saw the first 15 minutes of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN on DVD. It seemed very good. Then, before I watched the rest of it, I read about the subtitles controversy. Apparently the theatrical version of the film has significantly different subtitles than the first issue of the DVD. The theatrical version is said to be vastly superior to the DVD version. I sent my DVD back to Netflix, vowing not to watch the rest of it ’til I can see the better version. The good news is..I just read that the Netflix streaming version is the theatrical version, though someone said the subtitles are sometimes at the top of the screen, sometimes at the bottom. I don’t think that will bother me much. Looking forward to checking it out soon.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      September 27, 2010 7:46 am

      I’m familar with that controversy. I don’t recall what version I saw but in no way diminished the power of the film. Recently catching again on Watch Instantly confirmed that repeated viewings only enhances the experience. Of course, like most adaptations….I’ve been told the book is more indepth, has other themes and elements that somewhat alter the characters but I feel like I’ve been given the right amount of characterization to satisfy me with this film. What I may do is read the novel after I check out the American remake that’s coming out in the next couple weeks.

  2. windi permalink
    September 27, 2010 10:46 am

    I’m starting to watch this right now…..I’ll let you know what I think! 🙂

  3. windi permalink
    September 27, 2010 1:03 pm

    Just finished watching this. I hadn’t heard of it before your review (one of the many reasons I love this blog!!). It sounded intriguing just from your write up.

    Wow. What an interesting movie. Definitely an original take on the ‘vampire’ movies. I was completely absorbed by the visuals, the music, the slow pace of the movie, and the whole concept of it.

    Glad you reviewed it! 🙂

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      September 27, 2010 1:33 pm

      So, then it was better than any of the “Twilight” movies? (heh heh heh….)

      • windi permalink
        October 1, 2010 4:53 pm

        I don’t even understand why the critics are even comparing the two! Just because they both have vampires in the movie doesn’t mean they are even the same kind of movie! Granted, this was a better movie overall, but I wouldn’t put Twilight and this one in the same category, so it’s unfair to compare them.

        I suppose the comparison is inevitable, with the popularity of Twilight. I still like those movies! hehehehe

      • David J. Fowlie permalink*
        October 1, 2010 5:01 pm

        Well, since both films came out back in 2008, I was directing fans of “Twilight” or the vampire genre to this film because it was an unique and superior take on both the genre and tween turmoil. Some “Twi-hards” didn’t feel the same way while others liked this film just as much.

  4. September 30, 2010 3:49 pm

    NetFlix has been streaming the correct subtitles for over a year now. I first saw this film on a NetFlix DVD – which had the Magnolia subtitles (not the theatrical release subtitles), yet I was still hooked by its power and beauty. You should not let fear of the Magnolia subtitles keep you from experiencing this film.


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