‘I’m twelve. But I’ve been twelve for a long time’.
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Cast: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar
Plot: Oskar, a quiet and lonely 12-year-old boy, meets and befriends his mysterious new neighbor Eli, who isn’t all she appears to be – she’s actually a vampire! Oh, and a boy!
Horror films don’t have to just make you jump or hide your face behind a cushion. Take Tomas Alfredson’s seminal 2008 Swedish film, which is more a deeply disturbed WHEN HARRY MET SALLY than it is 30 DAYS OF NIGHT. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have moments of pure gore or nerve-shredding horror, but ultimately, it’s a love story first and foremost, albeit one cleverly disguised as a sweet coming-of-age romance movie.
Focusing on Oskar, a young boy who secretly wishes revenge upon the school bullies, Alfredson constructs a chilling narrative that wisely decides to keep the more graphic and scary elements of vampire-lore to the background. The relationship between Oskar and Eli is touching and yet at times creepy and uncomfortable to watch, whilst the restrained aspect of the story adds extra weight to the film’s more horrific moments of violence, yet equally serves to create a very ‘real’ and convincing portrayal of modern vampire lore. Here, the vampire is not a monster straight out of a gothic Hammer Horror film. Instead, Eli is just a normal little girl (or boy as we later learn, a revelation that is followed by a line that makes it dead on impossible to dislike Oskar). Portraying her as such gives Eli both strength and innocence, as well as a vulnerability that lulls the audience into a false sense of security, a sense that is then shattered once Eli is forced to give in to her animalistic, feral nature – made all the more scarier because we have been led to believe that Eli isn’t all that bad.
What is also incredibly striking about LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is its focus on the lives that are left in tatters by the film’s big bad. There’s poor Virginia, who finds herself turning into a monster after being on the receiving end of one of Eli’s more vicious attacks. Then there’s Håkan, Eli’s carer, who is forced into a life of secrecy and murder to protect Eli, a life decision that results in him taking his own life in the most terrible way. And finally, there’s Oskar himself The bittersweet ending suggests that Oskar, whilst happy with Eli, has only gone and taken the place of Håkan, that he will be forced to run, hide, and kill for the rest of his life, all for this one person whom he loves. It’s a terrifying yet oddly heartwarming notion, and one that makes LET THE RIGHT ONE IN stand out amongst other recent horror films as both intelligent and beautiful. Not a pair of adjectives one would often attach to a horror film!
Horror Highlights: The reveal of the deformed Håkan is a nasty display of prosthetics work, but the nastiest (and most beautiful) shot in the whole film is easily in the fantastic swimming pool dénouement, as an oblivious Oskar is held underwater whilst his high school tormentors are brutally murdered by Eli.
Best Scare: Not exactly a film for making you jump, but the first time we see Eli attack, kill, and feed in the late-night underpass scene is shocking and unsettling to say the least.
We’ll have another terror for you tomorrow at THN and you can view them all here.