Show Me Cinema #10: Let the Right One In

There is a definitive, albeit not too surprising, shortage of really good Swedish horror films. In fact the only ones I can think of that have received some kind of recognition, both abroad and domestically, are Viktor Sjöström’s The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen) and Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen). Other than that, the majority of horror films produced here are generally schlocky b-pictures and very few of them are what would be considered a-pictures, with real talent and budgets both behind and in front of the camera. Whilst this can lead to some fun and entertaining schlocky films (be sure to check out the films of Daniel Lehmussaari), it’s really quite disheartening to see just how few horror films we Swedes make. I don’t know if it all comes down to financiers and producers having a very bourgeois attitude towards the genre, or they simply don’t see the investment being worth it, which is ridiculous when you consider how popular the genre is here. But that almost makes the fact that Tomas Alfredson’s film Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) even better simply because it exists, and it’s given a big budget and it’s taken seriously rather than winking at the audience every two seconds.

Adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his own novel (the title itself comes from a Morrissey song), the film takes place in Stockholm in the winter of 1982. Oskar is a shy 12-year old who gets repeatedly bullied and fantasizes about getting revenge on them through rather violent and gruesome ways. Then one night, a mysterious girl named Eli moves in next door, and they come to form a strong bond together. But as we find out early on, Eli is in fact a vampire.

So what is it that makes Let the Right One In one of the best Swedish films ever made? Well there are a number of reasons for this, but the two that are central for me loving the film are twofold. First of all, the central relationship between Oskar and Eli and the performances from their respective actors are the things that really sell the movie. We as the audience get to see these two lonely and shy people find each other and connecting through their loneliness. There’s also an interesting and underlying bit of subtext about gender and sexuality. Eli states she’s not a girl, and she asks Oskar if he would like her even if she was a boy, to which he answers yes. In context Oskar may only have meant it in terms of friendship, but later on when she says she isn’t a girl, he still asks if they can be together. There’s something just so pure and beautiful about that. True love isn’t restricted to gender or anything like that, if you truly love someone, gender shouldn’t matter, you should just love someone for who they are as people. And although it’s never explicitly stated on why Oskar’s parents were divorced, it’s hinted at that perhaps Oskar’s father turned out to be gay when another man comes for visit.

Second thing as to why this movie is so brilliant is the filmmaking. Alfredson has said that he approached the film as if he was making a silent film, so that one could understand the story without dialogue or indeed sound of any kind. Hitchcock once said that a good movie should be able to turn the sound off and viewers would still have a perfectly good idea of what’s going on, and this film is almost the perfect example of that philosophy. Alfredson and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema shot the film anamorphic and utilized very methodical and highly calculated camera moves to tell every beat of the story visually. There are many long takes throughout the film, but none of them are in any way showy and never does it feel like they’re just there for efficiency, every shot and everything within the shot is there for a very specific reason, and when it all comes together through the said moves, compositions and blocking, it creates magic, a certain magic called cinema.

Those two combined forces are what makes this film a masterpiece in my eyes. And when you consider the lack of quality in most Swedish films, you start to wonder why we don’t demant more out of our films in terms of quality and genuine artistry when we evidently can do such good work. Maybe there is something to my theory that there is a bourgeois attitude towards the genre and therefore people in suits take it less seriously for some reason. But if Tomas Alfredson, who primarily made comedy before this, can produce such a masterpiece by taking the genre itself seriously, then why can’t more of us do so?

Also there’s apparently an American remake out there, but why bother really? I mean, this is as close to perfection as you get, why would you try to top that? Bloody yanks.

Published by davidalkhed

Co-creator, critic and columnist for A Fistful of Film.

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