Let the Right One In is a Swedish horror romance based on the John Ajvide Lindqvist novel. This movie has garnered widespread critical acclaim since its 2008 release and even spawned an American remake in 2010 called “Let Me In”. As a first time viewer who is jumping into the movie with full knowledge of all the positive things being said about it, there were clear hurdles for the movie to jump on its way to my heart. If you haven’t seen this yet, go ahead and stop right here and do so before continuing on to the spoiler-riddles review I’m about to hit you with. If you have seen it, let’s talk about some cats...
Reviewed by: Jake
Let the Right One In opens on Oskar. He’s a 12-year-old outcast in Sweden who is about as meek as they come. He spends his time reading, solving Rubik's Cubes and stabbing trees with knives while reciting lines to Deliverance. You know, typical loner stuff. Oskar is in a weird spot, as it appears he has no friends and is playing a game of kid pinball as he goes back and forth to spend time with his separated parents, neither of whom appear to want all that much to do with him. Enter Eli, who moves into the same apartment block as Oskar with some older dude. She and Oskar spend some time reluctantly getting to know each other while aforementioned guy is busy sneaking around town, killing random passers by, and draining their blood into gas canisters. The kids grow close. Did I mention it’s abundantly clear that Eli is a vampire? She does everything but sparkle (editor’s note: thank Jah for that).
As time passes and the kids grow closer, Eli helps Oskar empower himself by means of joining an after school athletics club so he can tack on mass and silence the bullies that harass him for being too smart and too pale. He hits one of them in the side of the head with a pole so hard that it splits his ear in half. The whole thing is basically Rocky IV.
We learn more about Eli as the story progresses, including her age (really fucking old, but in the body of a 12-year-old) and her gender (not a girl). It doesn’t matter to Oskar as his purity and lack of judgment seal their relationship. A man who has lost his best friend and love interest to Eli’s vampiric needs eventually makes an attempt on her life while she sleeps but she is saved by Oskar and she feasts on her attacker’s blood as well. After the ordeal, Eli decides to skip town for her own safety. Oskar is quickly hoodwinked into a situation where the group of bullies is literally going to maim or kill him as retribution for the flesh wound he gave their leader. This time, Eli comes to the rescue, dismembering and killing the attackers. Having found love, Oskar runs away with Eli, the centuries-old eunuch. Tale as old as time...
What the Movie Does Right
The main thing to focus on here is the originality and depth of this movie’s approach to the vampire genre. Doing the vampire thing is a tall order because of the long, tired line of entries into this corner of horror, but where this film excels is in some of the small touches, both from a thematic and executional standpoint.
First, I haven’t read the book by John Ajvide Lindqvist, but the ground covered here is unique. There is a depth to Eli’s character that, when distilled to screenplay format and directed by Tomas Alfredson, delivers little slivers of vampire fare in really interesting and satisfying ways. What happens when a vampire enters a home uninvited? This shows you. What happens when someone is attacked by a vampire but lives? This shows you. What happens when a vampire jumps down from a jungle gym? This shows you. It is the sheer number of small touches included in the movie that create a more believable and interesting end product than most. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t at least give a nod to the complex, coming-of-age story being told here. That shit is NOT my bag, but when combined with the vampire side of the plot (note that vampires are also not my bag) there is a really interesting horror romance concoction that results.
The other main success of the film is the cinematography. There are a cornucopia of engaging and unique shots in this thing. The most memorable for me is a sequence where Eli lures and kills a man under a bridge, which plays with areas of light and shadow in a static shot to really great effect. This quality is further aided in the small-in-number-but-big-in-punch action sequences in the movie. The most memorable of these is the final scene in the film, where Eli attacks Oskar’s bullies as seen from a static shot on Oskar as he is being held underwater in a pool. It’s really good stuff.
What the Movie Does Wrong
There is less to mention in this category than the last. The main gripe all three of us had was that the screenplay could have easily been trimmed down quite a bit. The side plot of the three people Eli attacks and ultimately kills is an easy direction to point the finger, mostly because that delivers the single most regrettable shot in the entire movie - the CG cat attack. What in the fuck was that? Seriously? How could this not have been left on the cutting room floor? Heres another gif:
Actually it’s kind of funny really funny, but it is such a tonal shift that it really jarred my immersion, and it looked like horseshit. I understand that this side of the plot was a necessary mechanism to push Eli out the door at the end of the film, but for a two hour movie, I feel like half of the associated shots could have been scrapped with no negative impact.
The other big oddity in this film comes to us from the lighting department. Why are all the night shots in this movie so god damn bright? “But, Jake” you say, “If those shots weren’t as bright you wouldn’t be able to see, like, any of the acting”. Here’s the thing about that. I don’t fucking care. It was hard to focus on any of the acting anyway when I was too busy thinking about what kind of an industrial-grade nuclear generator this town must have hanging over it.
I really am nitpicking though. This is a well made film. In such times, drastic measures tend to be taken. See our Black Mountain Side review for further evidence.
Story: 8 - I discussed this ad nauseum in the What the Movie Does Right section of the review. This is a deep and well fleshed out story with an interesting combination of forces at play. It doesn’t sparkle. At all. For a romance, this is as mean and unforgiving as it gets. Thanks, horror!
World-Building / Immersion: 6 - The story is executed well and I liked the two leads despite being unable to comment on line delivery because Swedish sounds like a fake language to me. A few portions where it drags, combined with the cat scene and supermoon night lighting, bring this down quite a bit for me personally.
Scare-Factor: 3.5 - Not a particularly scary movie from a traditional horror sense. The real “scare” here comes from the meanness of the story. Bullying, separated parents who don’t want you, confusion about growing up - all of that is scary from a real world perspective, but not so much in a fashion you’d consider when sitting down to watch a horror movie. A couple of the gore scenes were well done, but that’s about it on that side of the fence.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 6.5 - The sound design and most of the visual effects were outstanding. That fucking cat scene was unacceptable, though.
Overall: 7 - When rating this movie to my enjoyment level, it doesn’t garner particularly high marks, aside from the story. However, I think story should be weighted heavily in this case. This is a really unique and well executed film that weaves complex concepts fairly seamlessly into a quality product. I personally didn’t love watching it while I was in the process of doing so, but I am very happy to have finally seen it and would recommend any genre fan do the same.