The makers of the unexpectedly brilliant Swedish vampire thriller Let the Right One In use the same basic formula as recent blockbuster Twilight, but they have concocted a film that is infinitely more chilling – and touching – than its Hollywood counterpart.
Based on a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist set in early-1980s small-town Sweden, director Tomas Alfredson’s film also deals with the intense but chaste relationship between a young outsider and an ageless vampire, yet here the protagonists are pre-pubescent and their bond is resolutely un-sexual, if no less romantic in its own way than Twilight’s swooning lovers.
Kare Hedebrant’s Oskar is a pale, lonely, bullied 12-year-old boy from a broken home who fantasises about wreaking revenge on his tormentors. Then he encounters the mysterious Eli (Lina Leandersson), a girl who seems to be his age and who has just moved into the apartment next door.
They meet at night, in the snow-draped courtyard of their block of flats. Each recognises the other’s alienation from the world around them and their friendship blossoms. Yet Eli, who only comes out at night, and who smells a little funny, is a vampire…
Arriving in UK cinemas just a few weeks after the feeble Lesbian Vampire Killers, Let the Right One In is a sanguinary shot in the arm for the anaemic vampire movie genre, a thrilling transfusion of fresh blood.
Significantly, the film eschews the crosses and garlic and other bits of Gothic paraphernalia one usually associates with the genre. Yet it meaningfully draws on other aspects of vampire lore, such as the convention that vampires have to be invited into your home before they can cross the threshold. Hence the film’s title, which Lindqvist has taken from the Morrissey song ‘Let the Right One Slip In.’ (“Let the right one in,” Morrissey sings. “I’d say you were within your rights to bite/The right one and say, ‘What kept you so long?’ ”)
The film does do gore, though, and when it comes, in bursts of sudden violence, it is lurid and shocking.
Yet the bleak, grey, dysfunctional society the characters inhabit, rife with alcoholism, bullying and depression, is every bit as ghastly as the film’s vampirism.
One figure in the film uneasily straddles both worlds: the middle-aged man who acts as Eli’s protector and whose task is to procure her fresh blood. As he prepares his grisly killing kit – bottle of halothane to knock out his victims, knife to slit their throats, and funnel and plastic container to collect the blood – he is very much your average working stiff, a plodding drudge. What he does is hideous, yet his grim nocturnal activities in the snowy woods have their moments of black comedy, as when he hoists a victim upside down in the air, preparatory to draining the body of blood, only to find himself interrupted by an inquisitive poodle.
Throughout the movie, Alfredson’s control of mood is superb, miraculously fusing dark comedy and bloody horror, drab suburban realism and heady myth, and, above all, heart-stirring, magical first love.
Inevitably, there’s already been talk of a Hollywood remake. I’m already shuddering.
Released 10th April