The Twilight franchise has considerably numbed us to the horror that is called a vampire. Thankfully, directors like Tomas Alfredson can still take a well written plot and turn it into something chilling, original, and memorable. His film, Let the Right One In, based on a book by the same title by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, provides a nuance to the vampire genre that is fresh and haunting. The film has received critical acclaim, rating 98% positive from the popular film critic website, Rottentomatoes. Rather than remaking a vampire film like those based on Brahm Stoker’s book Dracula, or copying what is in many popular vampire films like Vampyr, Interview with a Vampire, or Blade, Let the Right One In is wholly original in its choice of setting, plot, and characters.
The plot centers around protagonist Oskar, a twelve year old boy who has no friends. His parents are both emotionally unavailable, and he is bullied at school. “Bullied” is really a misnomer, as the group at one point draws blood while whipping Oskar with a switch. Oskar notices some new tenants move in to the apartment next to him, who turn out to be Eli, a girl appearing to be the same age as himself, and an older man. We discover Eli to be a child vampire as the older man calmly ventures out into the night to not only murder, but to harvest the victim’s blood for his companion. Oskar is caught one night in a violent fantasy of stabbing his “enemy” or light post by Eli, and from there they begin developing a friendship. Meanwhile, the older man living with Eli begins to realize his usefulness isn’t what it once was, yet he continues provide what he can like a devoted partner.
The film takes a turn when Eli’s older companion messes up a kill in a high school gym, and ends up pouring acid on his face to protect her identity. She finds him, and he offers his blood as a final token of his love. From there, she continues to befriend Oskar and tells him that he must begin fighting back against the bullies at his school. Oskar doesn’t want to remain an outkast, and latches on to Eli with a childlike fervor. He protects Eli with a much more brutal nature than a twelve year old, evidenced by the incident at Eli’s apartment when one of the political activists comes to seek revenge for his lover’s death. His strength and courage grow to dark proportions under Eli’s tutelage, and we see that his life of solitude has left no real compassion for those whom he has no love.
The cinematography accentuates the thematic aloneness of the film. The shots and color both mimmick the experience the main characters, which I will discuss. I will also briefly analyze certain aspects of the film’s editing and acting.
Many of the shots in the film are extreme long shots, which heighten the emotional distance between the audience and the characters. At one point, Eli lures a man under a bridge and brutally attacks him, and we view it from far off. As she satisfies her thirst, she slumps over the dead corpse pitifully, suggesting a sadness in killing him. She is alive, but again she is alone. Murder is an act that permanently separates the killer from the rest of society, not to mention the finality of their victim’s death. That distance is felt through the film’s extreme long shots of the actions in the film. In another scene between the old man and a pedestrian victim, the distance suggests that the victim could be anyone. We never see the victim’s face; he walks onto the screen and is lured in by the old man’s innocent question. In the next scene he hangs from a tree as his throat is cut and blood siphons over his forehead into a plastic basin. What if some murderer took us off into the woods? The distance only heightens the sense of randomness in the killings, depleting any passionate motive for killing other than necessity. It scares us all the same.
Much of the framing in the film focuses on the objects that the characters handle and interact with. These scenes are meant to tell us about the characters subtly, without having to resort to dialogue and overt explanation. In one scene, Eli’s protector packs several items into a case. The shots are all closeup shots of siphons, hoses, and a halothane inhaler. Later, all of the objects are seen when the man hangs his victim up to collect his blood for Eli. The previous shots pointed out the relevance of the several articles, and we learn that they are all tools of a well prepared, meticulous killer. This type of shot choice is also evident with Oskar. Several shots focus on Oskar’s pocket knife which he carries around with him. In one scene, we see Oskar’s coat, and he slowly pulls out his knife before pretending to stand up to his bullies, stabbing the tree repeatedly in doing so. In another scene, we see several newspaper clippings of murders and violent news articles which are glued into a scrapbook. A hand slowly turns the pages, and we realize it is Oskar. The objects which are portrayed through several important closeup shots tell us much about the characters, and are an important part of the film.
The colors of the film are also suggestive. Many times Oskar and Eli are surrounded in darkness. Many shots have a black background and a white foreground, since the wintery town is covered in snow and ice. This allusion may be suggestive of the black and white morality that is unattainable in the film’s plot. Oskar and Eli are only children; yet they murder and even relish in their actions at times. Eli must kill to survive, and Oskar must protect Eli. For this to happen, throats must be slit, so is it totally wrong? Animals kill other animals to survive, and we surely do not argue the ethics of a Cheetah killing a gazelle. Is it any different for a vampire who must drink the blood of a human victim?
The pale skin tone of the characters is another form of color usage. Naturally, Oskar and Eli’s skin tones are due both to the ethnicity of their ethnicity, as well as the geographic location of Sweden, being near the North Pole. The paleness however also represents the emptiness and lovelessness that both Oskar and Eli feel. Neither of the two have family or friends that really care about them, so they must resort to befriending eachother. Their pale skin tone is extemporaneous, but also represents the internal cold, emptiness they feel. The only time either of them feel truly alive is when they hurt or kill those around them. When Oskar takes his revenge on the school bully and crushes his ear with a stick, he subtly smiles at the sight of pain and blood he has caused. In the scene where Eli attacks and kills her attacker in the bathroom, she emerges with blood all over her face. She hugs Oskar, one of the view times in the film she expresses real human emotion for another person. The blood is therefore not only what gives the physical body life, but it’s appearance in the movie tells the viewer of heightened emotional moments with the main characters as well.
Shrewd editing in Let the Right One In was tactfully achieved. Almost the entire film is edited so the dialogue occurs where the viewer watches the reaction of the character listening, rather than the one speaking. For example, when Eli is enraged that her protector came home empty-handed after his killing was botched by a dog, we never see Eli except for a shadow moving in front of the man. Instead, we see the man’s eyes has he nervously watches her pace back and forth. He reacts to her words by flinching, and we see that even though he is slightly scared, he actually does regret failing to bring her food. In another scene, as Eli and Oskar discuss the Rubik’s cube, many of the scene breaks show the character that is listening, not speaking. This is almost backwards of what takes place in most mainstream movies, where the scene cuts to over the shoulder shots of each character as they converse. In Let the Right One In, we are able to see how each character reacts to the other’s dialogue thanks to the reverse type editing of the dialogue.
The acting in the film is mostly done by two child actors, Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson. Neither of the actors have large speaking roles, and there aren’t any dramatic speaking scenes that might be expected from child actors like Dakota Fanning. Instead, the children act much like real children. They are quiet, they speak softly, and much of their acting in the film is psychological, expressed through slight facial expressions or movements. For example, when Oskar reminds Eli that he has been at the apartment complex longer than she, he smiles slightly, proud that he stood up for himself for once. In another example, we see the pain and hunger in Eli’s eyes as she has gone days without feeding. The sadness and longing we feel could only be achieved through a child vampire, because it muddles the morality around killing to keep a child alive.
Let the Right One In could be described as a film about love, but I would say it’s much more animalistic. Oskar and Eli have important needs that must be fulfilled, and many times that occurs through instinct alone. Eli doesn’t really love Oskar. Love, even sexuality, died long ago for the old vampire. Eli must survive, and she can’t do it alone. She is nocturnal and requires a protector during the day. Being stuck in a twelve year old body, it makes it very difficult for her to function. When her older companion demonstrates his growing inability to provide and protect her, she sees Oskar as the predecessor to that role. She cares for Oskar, but not in any Romantic idea of love.
Let The Right One In is definitely one of the better horror films. It’s success could be attritubed to its brilliant use of cinematography, editing, and acting. The choice of shots and color, as well as scene editing and splicing lead to an incredible psychological thriller. The choice of child actors and their subtle movements also add to the film’s haunting success.