Kelly's August Pick: Let the Right One In (2008)
August is, unfortunately, our last visit to Sunnydale for the podcast. So not only is it a celebratory month for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it’s turned into a full-on fang-fest! We will be revisiting our favorite supernatural monster, the Vampire, so keep an eye out throughout the month on our social media for all the bloody fun.
There has been a bit of resurgence of fangtastic vampire films during the 2000s; 30 Days of Night (2007), Thirst (2009), Stake Land (2010), What We Do in the Shadows (2014), Byzantium (2012), BIT (2019) and Bliss (2019) having been some of the best (in my very humble opinion). Though the one film that hit me hardest when it came onto the horror scene was a Swedish film by Tomas Alfredson, based on a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, and that is 2008’s Let the Right One In.
Oskar, a shy young boy bullied - physically and mentally - by his peers meets a meek, yet strange, young person named Eli. They (and I will use they as Eli seems to be genderless) have recently moved in next door and Eli immediately befriends Oskar. When Oskar watches Eli attack and drink the blood of a man, he finds out that Eli is a vampire, but what’s amazing is that the word vampire is never actually said. I appreciate it when films stay away from using the word “vampire” like in one of my favorite fanged films, The Hunger (1983). Let the Right One In lacks multiple, typical (comical) vampire tropes like fearing the cross/hissing/baring fangs, but keeps some of the important ones like sleeping during the day (harmed by sunlight), and requiring an invitation to come in. Eli has a caretaker (Hakan) that sometimes gathers blood and victims for them as a means to protect their secret, but Let the Right One In also doesn’t shy away from showing us what Eli can do. Eli is a vicious, brutal slayer of human beings if needed and this is seen in the attack on one of the neighbours beneath the bridge on a cold, dark night.
Let the Right One In moved me emotionally as I related to, and felt very sympathetic towards, the character of Oskar. As someone who was bullied by kids at school, I understood the loneliness and hurt that this can create. I thoroughly enjoyed the bond that Eli and Oskar develop throughout the movie and I definitely LOVED the climactic scene at the swimming pool. Besides being so expertly filmed, I cheered Eli on when they handed out justice against those teenagers who bullied Oskar.
Since Let the Right One In was filmed in a frigid Scandinavian country (Sweden), you literally can feel the chill in the air when Eli hunts/kills at night, or when Hakan is procuring blood for them. You can see the steam rising off the bodies as the blood comes pouring out onto the snow, making for very striking imagery. It's a very blue-tinge film that gives off a cold and melancholic tone that enhances the isolation that Oskar (and Eli) feel in their lives.
Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) the novel was released in 2004 and I highly recommend it as it’s a great companion piece to the film. It provides some wonderful insight into the characters, and context, as to Eli’s caretaker character Hakan (spoiler alert - he’s a pedo). You learn more about the pathetic and sad aspects of Oskar, as the author delves into Oskar thoughts and feelings about his lack of a father figure, as well as themes of alcoholism, abuse, mutilation, etc. And because of all his anxieties, Oskar has to wear a “pissball” because he had a tendency to leak urine, which alienates him from his peers even further.
I really love films that develop their characters around the monsters, instead of the other way around, and show their humanity (or lack thereof!). I deeply loved Let the Right One In and recommend it as one of the best modern vampire films. It also serves as a reminder to us all to only let the right kind of people (or fiends) into your life.