Let the Right One In: More Heart Than Arterial Spray

Eli the vampireYou might have seen previews for the movie Let Me In and thought, Yawn, another vampire movie for the teeny-boppers.  Nothing to see here.

Well, what you might not know is that the film was based on a Swedish movie from 2008, Let the Right One In.  And that film, my friends, is anything but derivative sparkly-neo-vamp fare.  In fact, if you’re on the fence at all about paying theater prices to check out a vampire film, I suggest you try the original first (available on Netflix Instant).  Even though it’s essentially the same plot, the original is so enjoyable that I intend to see the remake (I reversed my original position thanks to some very favorable reviews).   But for now, let’s talk about the original.

Let the Right One In is based on a Swedish novel of the same name (the quote references a Morrissey song).

Oskar is a somewhat sad little boy: his parents are separated, and he’s constantly bullied in school.  He spends his free time reading about murder and imagining revenge on his classmates.  He’s in need of a friend – and then Eli moves in next door.

At first, Eli tells him bluntly they can’t be friends, but a connection persists just the same.  Eli helps Oskar find the courage to stand up to some of the bullies, and the two learn to communicate through Morse code, tapping to each other at night.  Meanwhile, the area is plagued with a string of murders and attacks…

To say that this is a horror film would be both accurate and doing it a disservice.  Yes, it’s a vampire story – a very traditional one at that.  But it’s also a coming-of-age story.  I jokingly called it Stand By Me with vampires, and while I was just being silly, it really does have a similar dark, unflinching look at childhood.  I’m not exaggerating when I say I was much more afraid of the bullies than the vampire.

Ah, the vampire.  One of the things I love about Let the Right One In is that it doesn’t rely on boo! techniques, too much gore or special effects.  Ever since the days of The Lost Boys, it seems a good deal of attention was spent on seeing vampires “vamp out.”  Here, what movie magic techniques are used are subtle and used to great effect.  And while you can’t really have a vampire movie without some blood, what is shown, again, packs twice the punch.

If I were to get really poetic, I’d say the setting is a character as well.  It’s set in the winter of 1982, plenty of brown corduroy, dark nights and blinding white snow.  There’s a stillness to everything, a feeling that the world is holding its breath, frozen.   Meanwhile, Oskar holding his breath, too, though he doesn’t know it – captured in that extremely sticky stage just out of true childhood, but still an innocent.

Oh, and that age is captured perfectly by the two main actors.  Age-appropriate – cast when they were only eleven years old – the two leads manage to appear old enough to convincingly capture pure love and friendship, while Oskar, especially, has such innocence in his giant eyes that your heart breaks for him over and over again.  Perfect.

I saw this film weeks ago, and it has really stuck with me.  Not just the ending (which is jaw-dropping) or the characters, but the atmosphere.  It’s such a unique film that I do indeed want to see the remake – I’ve read the acting is top-notch, so I’m more interested in the differences, how the new film creates its own uniquely haunting world.

So if you’re interested in Let Me In – or even if you’re not – give Let the Right One In a try.  It’s the only vampire film I’ve ever seen where, instead of adjectives like fun or thrilling, I can only think beautiful.

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