Blog Directory CineVerse: Sink your teeth into this modern vampire film classic

Sink your teeth into this modern vampire film classic

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Directed by Tomas Alfredson, the 2008 Swedish horror film Let the Right One In—an adaptation of a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also penned the screenplay)—centers on the dynamic between a young boy named Oskar and Eli, a vampire child who appears to be Oskar’s age but who has lived for centuries. The film unfolds against the backdrop of a small wintry Swedish village, contributing to its distinctive visual approach and ambiance. Through a blend of horror, romance, and themes related to coming of age, the movie crafts a one-of-a-kind and thought-provoking storyline.

Let the Right One In garnered significant critical and popular praise thanks to its inventive take on the vampire genre, capacity to elicit both fear and compassion, evocative cinematography, deliberate pacing, and deep exploration of the intricacies of human emotions and connections.

Click here to listen to a recording of our CineVerse group discussion of this film, conducted last week.

This work defies our expectations for a vampire film in several ways. First, it’s debatably less a horror movie than a brooding, aching coming-of-age, loss-of-innocence, or tragic romance film. It doesn’t fall into the trappings of conventional vampire fare. Admirably, the filmmakers eschewed big-budget gruesome special effects, in-your-face camera shots, hyperpaced editing, jump scares, and gratuitous nudity and violence. The viewer benefits from restrained moments of quiet and stillness suddenly upended by eruptions of violence. Excessive blood, gore, graphic violence, and CGI/visual effects have become stale and cliché, overused in horror fare, and too easy to rely on. This film likely satiates the palates of those who prefer less frequent carnage and gore, delivered instead in sudden bursts.

Additionally, Let the Right One In wields an emotionally cool, detached tone by employing an unconventional style for this genre. Consider the frequent static camera shots that offer very little movement, allowing us to linger and reflect on the characters and situations. There’s ample use of wide shots, often in which the violence, horror, or supernatural elements are obscured or off in the background or periphery. Cases in point: Eli climbing the side of the building far in the distance, and the severed head and limbs unexpectedly appearing during the underwater pool shot. Arguably, it’s more effective to adopt this subtler horrific approach and maintain a more subjective shot from Oskar’s POV than to rely on grandiose gross-out effects to graphically depict this massacre.

How refreshing it is, too, to have the monster take the presumed form of a diminutive, emotionally vulnerable, and pre-pubescent girl—or perhaps this is an androgynous boy, as suggested by Eli’s scar and insistence that “I’m not a girl” (in the novel, this character is a male who has been castrated, but the filmmakers leave much to your imagination). Here, we get an awkward, pitiable, and grimy/foul-smelling waif who is forced to commit heinous acts to survive but who also evokes empathy.

Let the Right One In also doesn’t attempt to tie up all the loose ends or answer every question posed; it avoids prolonged exposition, excessive dialogue, and backstory flashbacks. Instead, several questions remain unresolved, like how did Eli become a vampire? Why does Eli occasionally look like an older person? Who is Håkan, the man who helps Eli, and why does he perform terrible crimes for her? For that matter, how could Håkan have tended to Eli’s needs for so long without capture yet prove to be so careless and sloppy in his gruesome work? And is Oskar’s father gay or bisexual, and does this possible realization by Oskar encourage him to embrace Eli romantically, regardless of gender?

One could argue that the gory/violent nature of vampirism isn’t the real horror to be feared in this picture. Other frightening real-world themes and subtexts examined here include the scary uncertainty that accompanies the adolescent onset of awkward physical changes and sexual feelings and our struggle to understand the complexities of this life stage. The blood the youngsters shed and are stained with could, after all, be a metaphor for the loss of virginity/innocence.

The film also explores a child’s yearning to belong and feel accepted by peers. Let the Right One In continually reminds us of the true life horrors of childhood—what it’s like to be alone, outcast, picked on by bullies, and the challenges of trying to fit in within an alienating world.

The power of true friendship and young love, bonded by trust and interdependency, is another major message posited. And the movie further suggests that love can bloom in even the harshest of environments: The striking juxtaposition of the frigid, snowy surroundings and the heartfelt intensity of the characters' feelings produces a visually enthralling journey in this film.

Similar works

  • Let Me In (the American remake)
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
  • The Orphanage
  • Only Lovers Left Alive
  • Ginger Snaps
  • Thirst
  • Byzantium
  • Interview With the Vampire

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