There are special effects that no Hollywood blockbuster can create, and magic that no money can buy. It is the magic of humanity that no CGI can recreate or substitute – the magic of perfectly cast actors whose alchemy transcends (and renders laughable) the puerile “special effects” of the generic horror products. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN lets the right kind of magic into its horror story and transcends the genre. It is immaterial whether you like horror or not: it is simply a great film.
Kåre Hedebrant plays Oscar, a blond bullied boy who dreams of revenge: the first words we hear from him are: “Squeal now. Squeal like a pig.” Later he will re-enact the “Are you talking to me” routine from THE TAXI DRIVER. But he’s not a psycho: he’s just trying to survive and remain sane in the cold, unfriendly environment.
Lina Leandersson, as raven-haired Eli, comes to the rescue. She warns him right from the start that they cannot be friends, but their loneliness drives them together anyway. The reason she warns him away is that she is not a girl. She is a vampire. She is “twelve, more or less.” She’s been twelve for quite a while. Lina Leandersson plays the tortured soul driven by bloodlust with a heartbreaking convincingness: she’s vulnerable, doomed and sad, but also pretty scary when she gets hungry. And while some minor (wire and CGI) effects are used for the scenes of Eli’s violent attacks and super-human jumps, the real magic shines in her quiet scenes with Oscar. The way they talk. The way she looks at him with her large black eyes. The way their bodies move to the gramophone music played when his mother is away. There lies the real magic of this film, and no teen supermodel TV star cute faces in “cool” leather outfits jumping around to the loud techno beats pretending to be vampires and accompanied by CGI extravaganzas can ever hope to approach that.
In terms of originality, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN does not rank very high. We’ve already seen prepubescent vampires frozen in time, say, in AN INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE and in NEAR DARK. We’ve seen bullied boys in countless teen horror flicks in the past decades. We’ve seen a far more gruesome exsanguination and dismemberment scene in the crime thriller PUSHER 3 than the horror film we’re talking about.
Yet, the performances of the two young stars hold this film together and make even the familiar situations seem fresh and enchanting. Because, above all, this is a coming of age story, a serious and heartfelt teen drama and a touching story of friendship and love which transcend all boundaries. The horror tropes are there just to accenuate the teen angst that anyone can relate to. Most of us have never tasted blood, but we can all relate to hunger. Most of us have felt diferrent from the crowd and in need of a special other’s friendship, acceptance and love. Few of us have killed, but all of us have wanted someone dead at some point in our lives. Let the one who hasn’t imagined his enemy squealing like a pig throw the first stone. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN has tender human heart beating behind its Swedish suburban landscape and its blood-spattered snow. It is a great film that anyone who’s alive, and all of the undead, can relate to.
Its cinematography and direction are superb in a subtle manner which does not draw attention to itself: everything, including special make-up effects, is subordinated to characters and story. By providing characters you’ll fall in love with and story you’ll care about, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is that rare instance in modern horror: a film with a heart and soul that manages to be touching, magical, thought-provoking and creepy all at the same time. Highly recommended!
Tomas Alfredson (director) / John Ajvide Lindqvist (screenplay)
CAST: Kåre Hedebrant … Oskar
Lina Leandersson … Eli
Per Ragnar … Håkan
Henrik Dahl … Erik
Karin Bergquist … Yvonne
Peter Carlberg … Lacke
Ika Nord … Virginia
Mikael Rahm … Jocke