Let the Right One In Review

6 02 2010

I have neither seen nor read Twilight nor any of its sequels. I know, I know, this is a big surprise. But really, it shouldn’t be. I am a straight male, with what I consider to be reasonably good taste in movies (Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure notwithstanding).

But even aside from that, I’m just a little vampired out. It’s bad enough that they’re all over the movies (New Moon, Daybreakers, Underworld) and books (take a look at Borders’ teen section, good God that’s a lot of black covers), now we have them on TV (Vampire Diaries, True Blood) too, and even in music (Vampire Weekend). I’m just sick of them. So it took me awhile to get around to watching the Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In, even though I’ve heard it’s really good. Well, I’m here to tell you that it is. It’s really, really good.

In Let the Right One In, a 12-year-old Swede named Oskar meets a strange girl his age named Eli (pronounced “Eely”), who has recently moved in next door. Because he is shy and scrawny and strange, Oskar is the target of bullies and he vents his frustration on a tree in the courtyard of his apartment building with a vicious looking hunting knife. He also collects newspaper clippings of violent crimes, and displays other early serial killer warning signs. But Eli intrigues him, and, after bonding over a Rubik’s Cube, they begin getting to know each other, even though Eli keeps warning him she’s different, and that even more ominously she’s “not a girl”.

My favorite thing about the movie is how true it is to classic vampire myth. There’s no sparkling, there’s no brooding torment over the everlasting night, none of that shoe-gazing nonsense. Eli is a killer, and thanks to the little girl’s incredibly creepy performance (enhanced by some subtle “was-that-or-wasn’t-it CGI), you know it right from the start not to fuck with her. They don’t bring up superstitions just to bring them up (aside from the titular myth about a vampire not being able to enter your home unless you invite them), so garlic, crosses, silver, etc. are never mentioned. There’s an interesting (and incredibly disturbing) take on the Renfield/ghoul character, in Eli’s caretaker, a middle aged man tasked with making sure Eli gets fed.

****Spoiler Warning****

I do have to say there is a really fucked up scene where Oskar watches Eli dress after a bath. A wholly unnecessary shot of Eli’s crotch is onscreen for like half a second. I looked away, repulsed and shocked that the filmmakers got away with something like that. Curious, I Wikipedia’d the movie, to see if there had been any controversy as I hadn’t heard anything about it going into the movie. Well, it turns out that isn’t the little girl’s crotch at all, but a mannequin or something, and it’s showing that there’s this nasty scar down there where her junk used to be. That’s right; Eli’s a boy in the book, castrated centuries ago by another vampire. This soothed my anger a little bit, and though it’s an interesting twist on the story I thought that the shot in question could have been dropped, and the idea that this little boy had been living as a little girl through the centuries could have been done in a different way.

***End Spoilers***

The cinematography in this film is beautiful, and suburban Stockholm is not a place we Americans see very often on film. The snowy urban vistas are breathtaking, and shot with much care. We see a bit of the Swedish countryside as well, and 30 below or now, I’d love to visit. There aren’t really any jump-scares in the film, it’s more just an overall mood and tone of dread and fear, and the make up/CGI is like I said earlier, very subtle and done just to give you a sense of unease when you’re looking at Eli.

One thing that has to be discussed on its own is the sound. The director and sound engineer are geniuses, and it’s fair to say this is the best sound work I have ever heard in a movie. From the nasty biting and sucking sounds, Eli’s voice, her stomach growling, and fucking rad scene underwater, the soundscape on this film is second to none, really bringing to life a cold, harsh world that is so full of life. They dubbed over the actress’s voice with a much older actress, and it helps give Eli a menacing, androgynous tone.

I highly recommend this movie. It’s less a horror film and more a disturbing bit of art-house cinema, but there’s enough creep and dread to satisfy any horror fan.

Follow me on Twitter! @CharlieHamlin

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