Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a lonely, outcast 12 year old boy living with his mother in a small apartment in 1980s Sweden. He gets bullied a lot, but is too frail, weak and introverted to fight back. That is until Eli (Lina Leandersson) moves in next door with an older man assumed to be her father, Hakan (Per Ragnar). She hangs around outside at night, doesn’t seem to feel the cold and gives off a feeling that there’s more than a little different about her. Mainly because she’s a vampire.
This film was recommended for me to watch by Dylan Fields, founder of Man I Love Films, the LAMB and the Lambcast. In my final year of university (2008/9) I ran the Global Cinema Society, which every week showed a film from around the world for people to watch. At the start of each film someone – usually me – would briefly introduce the film to those in attendance. We showed films like Bicycle Thieves and Rashomon, neither of which I can remember a great deal about, but the year after I left the group continued, and I’d still attend after work (the University is on my route home) because hey, free movies. That year they showed Let the Right One In, and as none of the people hosting it that year were very confident about introducign it, they asked me to, as I’d brought my DVD along. The only problem was, I’d never seen it either, and knew precious little about it, so my introduction was even shorter than usual. At the end of last year when I was drawing up the lsit of potential films people could nominate for me to watch, I included this because whilst I knew I’d definitely seen it, my memory was a little hazy. So hazy, in fact, that earlier this year when I read John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel upon which this is based, I remembered almost nothing that took place in the story. I read the book thinking “Wow, they really changed this for the film, they didn’t include any of these characters or scenes!” As it turned out they did, it’s just that my brain doesn’t work.
I’ll apologise now for how often I’ll be referring to the book throughout this review, but it’s where most of my thoughts on the film came from. I recommend reading the book, as I do with most book-to-film adaptations, because books are great, and also everything you may love about this film gets expanded upon and dug into in the book. It’s quite a long and occasionally dense book, providing further insight into the logistics and biology behind this particular story’s vampire lore, but it’s still worth your time. Now, let’s get on with the film, shall we? I’ll get back to the book again later.
This isn’t a typical vampire film, in that traditionally they (in my limited history with vampire lore) tend to focus on adult blood-suckers preying on other adult victims in under-wired, anachronistic night-wear. Here the vampire is a child, or at least has been a child for a long time. She takes no joy from killing, it is necessary for her own survival. If she doesn’t feast on blood from the living, within days she begins to physically deteriorate, so she chooses to live, but the only way she can, by killing others. Her being a child also poses an issue with acquiring this blood, as she lacks the required size or strength (maybe, super-vampire-strength isn’t really explored here) to forcibly obtain it from others except in the direst of circumstances, hence the role of her familiar, Hakan. Perhaps the biggest character change from the book to the film is that here Hakan is simply a carer for Eli, someone who has been with her for an undetermined amount of time, perhaps even since he was a child. In the book, however, he is a paedophile, living with Eli and helping her based on the promises that if he helps her, she will remain close to him. It’s understandable why this would be omitted from the film, because reading these segments, especially those told from Hakan’s perspective, are occasionally downright nauseating. They’re really interesting too, but in an oh-god-I’m-gonna-throw-up kind of way. The second half of Hakan’s book story is omitted too, which I find to be strange because it’s perhaps the most cinematic section of the book, but it would have led to a far different film than this, as the third act would have still followed everything taking place here, but with added elements of a man-hunt and a monster-attack-movie. Instead we have a much more low-key story that focusses far more on the characters than it does anything else.
So much time is spent here on character and situation development. It’s important for us to recognise just how trapped Oskar is in his world. He’s a child, and not a wealthy one at that, so his home is small and confining. His mother works a lot. His father has moved away and, whilst Oskar enjoys the visits to see his Dad, they often result in a friend of his father’s visiting and staying up drinking, interrupting any meaningful experiences Oskar could be having. Everyone bullies him at school (in the book he also suffers from incontinence, and must wear an absorbent piss-ball in his underwear at all times) and some of his teachers think he’s a little off too. Only his gym teacher, Mr. Avila (Cayetano Ruiz), pays him any kind of heed, suggesting Oskar join his after-school weight-lifting program to learn to defend himself, but even then that isn’t until Eli has arrived to inspire Oskar to be more than he is. Before she showed up he had nothing and nowhere to go. He’d spend the occasional evening watching TV with his mother, but his only other pastime was pretending to fight his bullies with a knife.
A sub-plot I was certain had been omitted because I remembered literally nothing about it was the group of town drunks roaming through the story. They seem quite disconnected at the start, merely drinking in the same establishment as Hakan one evening, but their importance grows and it leads to a deeper exploration of what it means to be a vampire when one of their number falls victim to a desperate Eli. In the book (take a drink) it goes into far more detail over a period of days giving every last detail of the transition phase, and what it feels like to come to terms with your blood-thirsting future, which again is nothing short of fascinating, but even in this trimmed down version it’s still a fresh and insightful approach. Alas, this sub-plot gives way to some of the few scenes of CGI in the film, one of which is utterly terrible involving several very fake-looking cats. It’s almost laughably bad. I can assume that’s a necessity from budgetary restrictions, but limitations could have been set up to improve it. Reducing the number of cats, for example, or perhaps going down the puppet route. It wouldn’t have looked less real, of that I’m certain.
Had I been concerned that such a low key film might have just petered out into a fizzle of an ending I needn’t have been, because the climactic scene of this film is phenomenal. Not to spoil anything, but it takes place in a swimming pool, is perfectly shot and choreographed, and I’ve watched just that sequence alone several times since. It’s the kind of scene that revels and operates effectively purely because of its limitations, only showing actions from a certain perspective that makes them seem a little off to begin with, then awesomely mental soon after. It’s the kind of scene that would make a bad film worth watching, but here it just makes a great film even better.
Choose Film 9/10