Magnolia Pictures // 2008 // 115 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // March 20th, 2009
Eli is 12 years old. She's been 12 for over 200 years and, she just moved in next door.
I was first introduced to Let the Right One In by the ecstatic blog post of a friend-of-a-friend: "OMG. Best Vampire Movie Ever!" With an endorsement like that, how could I resist? It didn't hurt that major critics were echoing, with fewer capital letters, similar sentiments, and I resolved to check out the film when it hit home video. When I slipped the disc into my player I didn't know much about the film except that it was about a vampire and wasn't produced in America, but for nearly two hours I was mesmerized by the images on screen. In spite of (or perhaps because of) its genre-bending storyline, Let the Right One In emerges as an interesting take on the vampire film.
In a suburb of Stockholm, twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) lives a fairly normal life as the object of school bullies. One day he meets his new neighbor, Eli (Lina Leandersson), who seems to have some affection for Oskar, although she's also strangely distant. That may be because she's a vampire, and it's not easy surviving in the modern world when she has to feed on blood to survive.
In one of his usually insightful comments, David Cronenberg claimed that if The Fly didn't have all its science-fiction elements, then no one could bear to watch it since it's really about a couple falling in love and then losing each other to illness and death. Without the sci-fi veneer the story is simply too painful to contemplate. Similarly, without the vampire elements, Let the Right One In would simply be the story of two twelve-year-olds falling in love for the first time, a worthy subject, but not generally the stuff of critical acclaim. However, using the vampire plot as a story element allows the film to resonate on a level far beyond what the story of two children would normally allow.
As a vampire film, Let the Right One In seems to owe little to previous cinematic representations of the nosferatu. There's little attempt made at presenting a mythology, no trendy Eurotrash vamps, or appeals to the long tradition of disfigured counts. Instead, through its mix of short, brutal violence and atmospheric cinematography, the film most reminds me of the vampiric oeuvre of Jean Rollin, with his dreamy atmospheric and taste for blood. This might be a somewhat problematic comparison because of all the sensuality dripping from Rollin's movies, but I think the tentative adolescent attraction between Oskar and Eli holds the seeds of sexuality. Naturally, Let the Right One In is quite a bit less sleazy than your average Rollin flick, but I think its dreamy atmosphere is one of its chief strengths.
Leaving aside the vampire aspects of the film, we're left with a young boy coming to terms with his growing masculinity. He's attracted to a girl, trying to stand up to the local bullies, and obviously trying to improve himself physically. However, Let the Right One In seems to be about so much more. Ultimately, there's very little plot to the film, which gives the entire film a feeling of allegory. This feeling is aided by the fact that the film drops Eli's back story from the novel. Instead, both she and Oskar are like specters, only really alive once they've met each other. It's also hard not to read into the casting of the two leads (both of whom, by the way, give performances that would make actors three times their age jealous). Oskar is all blond hair and fine features, while Eli is the darker of the two, with broader features and an "ethnic" air about her. Their troubled friendship takes on historically relevant overtones, and parallels to twentieth century history are not hard to draw.
The film is stunning for its fearless attention to cinematography. Let the Right One In is replete with extended shots, often long and medium length views of scenery and people which lend to the atmosphere. When the camera does come in for a close up, shallow depth of field is often used, throwing large parts of the screen out of focus, reinforcing some of the dreaminess of the narrative.
This dreamy atmosphere is well presented on this DVD. With a palette of blues and whites, this video transfer is amazing. Detail is high, and none of the film's darker scenes suffer from compression problems. My only caveat is that because of the attention to visuals in this film, it should probably be watched on Blu-ray for the added resolution. Magnolia has given us the original Swedish audio track, as well as an English dub. The Swedish track is effective, with nice balance and clear dialogue. The English dub is okay, but only worthwhile to those who detest subtitles.
The only place this release is lacking in is the extras department. We get 6 minutes of deleted scenes which are fine but not great, and an 8-minute featurette covering the film's production. It was nice to hear from the director, but a commentary would have been even better.
If I am completely honest, Let the Right One In makes my BS detector a little nervous. Although I think the film is good and should be viewed by anyone with an interest in vampires or drama, I can't help but feel like a review of this type hasn't allowed the film to sit with me long enough. I'm slightly afraid that the film lacks staying power, and that I'll watch it six months from now and won't be nearly as impressed. Though if that's the case, Let the Right One In has still managed to make a very good first impression.
I should also mention that Let the Right One In falls much more into the art house tradition of Swedish cinema rather than the vein-draining world of typical vampire flicks. Those looks for bloodsoaked action are sure to be disappointed.
The vampire flick has been somewhat stagnant for a while now, and Let the Right One In is the perfect film to pull the genre out of the doldrums. However, don't let the whole vampire angle scare you away if fright films aren't your thing. Although there is certainly some violence and a few jump-scares, Let the Right One In is much more haunting in an emotional way than it is scary. Although the lack of extras is disappointing, the audiovisual presentation on this disc is top notch and fans should pick this one up as soon as possible.
For fans of art-house vampirism this is certainly the right one to let in.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Swedish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Swedish)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Photo Gallery
* Poster Gallery