Ah, the poor vampire. As a movie monster, it has been used as a metaphor for everything from AIDS to drug addiction. It has been the staple of the housewife romance novel and even the teen celibacy parable. Surely its potency as an on-screen creature of the night as long since passed?
If that was the case, somebody forgot to tell the makers of Swedish flick Let The Right One In, which is not only the best vampire film of recent years, but one of the greatest of all time.
Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a young boy in a difficult time. His parents have split up and he is suffering from relentless bullying at school. In his loneliness, he collects newspaper clippings of tragedies and retreats into a fantasy world where he has the strength to lash out and kill his tormentors.
Then one night, a man moves in to the apartment next door with a young girl around Oskar’s age. She is Eli (Lina Leandersson), and as she explains, she has been 12 for a very, very long time…
Let The Right One In boasts a solid script as John Ajvide Lindqvist adapts his own pulp horror novel of the same name, but it is the elegance of the filming that lifts the whole beyond its b-movie roots. If there is a flaw, it is that the film remains frustratingly light on its meaning, preferring to gently touch issues of sexual awakening and confusion, of responsibility and the nature of supposedly loving relationships, rather than exploring them to any depth. But stacked against this is truly beautiful cinematography, stunning composition and a superb sense of pacing.
The deft touch director Tomas Alfredson brings is masterful. Subtle touches speak volumes, such as the way Eli first jumps down from a climbing frame outside her apartment building and lands just a little too lightly. Also, her voice is dubbed by another actress (Elif Ceylan) with a deep, almost otherwordly tone. The dubbing is carefully covered with very few shots of Eli’s lips throughout the film.
Oskar’s world is a cold, bleak, eerily beautiful Sweden of the 1980s. It is all white snow and blank concrete, with even Oskar’s own skin being pale to the point of near-translucence. Into this world comes Eli and the carefully drawn picture of these two incredibly lonely beings reaching out to one another is at once tender and unnerving as we know only too well, through bursts of violence, just how dangerous Eli is. Her own human protector is becoming old and ineffective, while Oskar finds in Eli the strength he needs to stand up to his bullies and, ultimately, the weapon to enact his vengeance.
Let The Right One In is fashioned with a delicate touch, horrific in its violence, beautiful in its relationships and sinister in its overtones and perversion of the classic coming of age love story. Powerful and poetic, this is one of the finest horror films of the decade.
Let the Right One In is available on R4 DVD from Vendetta Films.