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In Association with
Let The Right One In (2009)
Director: Tomas Alfredson

review by J.C. Hartley

A problem with films that receive glowing reviews is the concern that you won't like them and then wonder what the fuss was all about. Is it you? Are the critics idiots? Take the Coen brothers' True Grit. Some critics went as far as to say that it was the brothers' five-star 'masterpiece'. It was supposed to be closer to the book, and therefore better and more authentic than the Henry Hathaway and John Wayne version of 1969. Critics swooned at the poetic dialogue. I wondered if anyone had watched the 1969 version. The new film was certainly more compact, and the mercy-dash at the end better, and more surreal, than Big John's trek across the desert.

But, apart from a couple of scenes or so, the Coens' film isn't that different; and one of the new scenes, the invented 'bear man' episode was frankly embarrassing. The poetic dialogue was all in the Hathaway movie, there was even a hint of a romance between Matty and LaBoeuf, just like in the 1969 version, although some critics vehemently denied it. And the Coens had clearly asked Barry Pepper and Dakin Matthews to provide impersonations of Robert Duvall and Strother Martin from the original cast. I enjoyed the film but I ended up thinking that the whole thing was a bit of mischief by them there Coen boys.

Let The Right One In garnered rave reviews too, and a rapid-fire Hollywood remake as Let Me In (starring Chloe Moretz from Kick-Ass). Let Me In seems to follow the original very closely and has received excellent reviews, although I have heard it has a somewhat higher gore quotient. The original novel is darker still, spelling out details that are only alluded to in the film versions. What is it about Sweden just now? My daughter says it's just a culture whose time has come.

Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) lives with his mother, who is separated from her son's father. He seems to spend a lot of time on his own, playing out revenge fantasies, suffused with the dialogue from films, 'Are you looking at me?' 'Squeal like a pig'. He is bullied at school by Conny and his little gang who, like all bully's gangs, seem to go along with things in gratitude that it is not happening to them. A little girl moves in next door with her father, and we see the older man go out at night and kill a jogger and attempt to drain him of his blood.

This man Hakan (Per Ragnar) is the worst killer ever, he kills his victim in the sight of a main road and, when disturbed by dog walkers, runs off leaving the blood he needs to feed the girl Eli. Eli (Lina Leandersson, but 'voiced' by Elif Ceylan) makes contact with Oskar, although she says they cannot be friends. Oskar gives her his Rubik cube which she returns to him solved. Hakan's bungling attempts to obtain blood for Eli see her having to feed for herself. She kills a man named Jocke, drawing the attention of his friend Lacke.

Hakan's final attempt to gather blood for Eli sees him being caught, but not before he disfigures himself to prevent the trail leading back to Eli. Eli feeds from Hakan in the hospital and Hakan falls to his death from a window. Eli and Oskar share a bed and despite Eli warning the boy that she is not a girl he asks if they can 'go steady'. Oskar stands up to the bullies on the day that Jocke's body is discovered, wounding Conny in a confrontation that will eventually draw the involvement of Conny's delinquent elder brother.

What is stunning about this film is the touching hesitant relationship that develops between Oskar and Eli, as plaintive as any coming-of-age tale or pre-teen romance. There are other nuances too. The bullies call Oskar 'piggy', he plays out the dialogue from Deliverance, what might have happened between the boys? Oskar's mother seems harsh and uninvolved, while his relationship with his absent father seems full of fun. But presumably Oskar's mother has to work and bring the boy up. On one visit, Oskar's dad's creepy friend comes around; are they gay? The pair drink and become maudlin, and the boy returns to his mother. Mother and son share a delightful teeth-brushing duel or duet. The characterisation is not in one tone, there are shades.

The frozen landscape, Oskar's white hair, Eli's transformations from pallid drawn waif to tanned princess with plump bruised lips, the apartment blocks, the echoing school buildings, the underpasses, blood on the snow, the mise-en-scène describes the atmosphere.

Eli encourages Oskar to stick up for himself, but compares Oskar's desire to hurt or kill his tormentors with her own violence out of necessity to feed and live. But even here there is another choice. Eli feeds on and infects Lacke's girlfriend Virginia, and Virginia is attacked by cats, who hate vampires, in a bit of clumsy CGI, but having realised her fate Virginia chooses to destroy herself. All of the characters make their own choices.

It is impossible not to root for Eli and Oskar. This is what makes this a superior horror, the identification with dreadful events and indefensible characters, and an involvement with their stories, like that of Oh Dae-Su in Oldboy, and this is what raises this form of horror far above the torture-porn that sees nubile victims tied to chairs while bits of them are sawn off. Tomas Alfredson is directing Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with Gary Oldman, which should be fascinating.

Let the Right One In

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