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Let The Right One In

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on February 9, 2010


Huzzah for a foreign film! And from SWEDEN! Who knew?! Anyway, as with practically any foreign language film, I refused to watch this with English dubbing, which does two things. First, it lets me focus on the natural inflection and tone of the actors’ voices, which is really important when you’re watching a performance, and it meant that I was reading while watching a film. Yes, I know it’s not a LOT of reading, and I should still be able to get most of what’s happening on screen when a sentence appears at the bottom of it, but the fact of the matter is that I can’t watch a subtitled movie quite the same. That’s the only real issue I have with watching foreign films–I like to get as much information as I can from the images, and that’s just slightly hindered by the necessity of reading the dialogue.

Now to move away from the broader aspect of foreign films and focus on this film…

This is a horror film, of sorts. I say “of sorts” because it’s a pretty tame, subtle film in terms of horror. It’s a vampire film, but not in the typical sense that we normally see vampirism treated in horror films. It’s a serious film, not because of death, but because vampirism is treated gravely and without the usual parody or gimmicky ridiculousness that we usually see in such films. It’s also heavily focused on relationships and adolescence– more specifically, a relationship between two twelve year-olds (or one twelve year-old and one vampire who looks to be twelve years old). The film itself is not at all something meant for children, even though the movie is heavily centered on them. While a lot of the dialogue between the characters is clearly adolescent in nature and sometimes silly in its childish wonder, the subtext and the seriousness of the movie makes it something that I think will either greatly disturb children or totally fly over their heads (there’s a bit of a pun in there, I realize, but you’d have to watch the movie to understand it).

I realize I am being vague, and part of the reason why is because I don’t want to give my away. Here are the basics: A young boy, Oskar, meets a new neighbour, a girl named Eli. She is mysterious and forward. She gives him the confidence he’s been lacking, as he’s a small boy who is constantly bullied at school. He grows quite fond of her immediately, and their relationship unfolds during a course of events that focuses on Oskar’s changing attitude and Eli’s vampirism (I promise you I am not spoiling anything– it was made clear from nearly the beginning of the film, as well as the trailers, that the girl was a vampire). The horror aspects are pretty grim, especially with the air of realism surrounding the film, and they are amplified by the fact that the horrific actions are being perpetrated by a child. However, the audience is meant to grow fond of Eli just as Oskar does, so her vampirism is almost excusable.

Tomas Alfredson, the director, does a wonderful job with this film. He treats it with a delicacy and stillness that perfectly matches the wintry landscape of Sweden, and sets the tone for the film. The muted palette (special thanks to cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema) leads the appearance of blood to be even more stark and shocking when we see it, and the paleness of the film seems also to be a play on the pallor of the vampire’s flesh. As for the acting, the children are surprising in this film. I have to say that I am usually quite weary of child actors, even when others give them high praise. For example, I loved the film The Piano (I absolutely recommend it, if not just for its hauntingly beautiful score) but I wasn’t impressed by little Anna Paquin, who won an Academy Award for her role in that film. However, the children in this film played their roles masterfully, which is even more impressive given some of the adult aspects of their interactions. Kåre Hedebrant, who plays Oskar, captures the bullied child with a big heart and budding curiosity quite well. He’s adorable for his childish ignorance and sweetness, and even more lovable for the way he dotes on Eli– especially when he tries to comprehend a situation that many adults would be hard-pressed to understand. Kåre’s performance is sincere and earnest, exactly as Oskar should be. Lina Leandersson, who plays Eli, is haunting and eerie as the “young” vampire. She often seems emotionless and passive, though she allows flickers of expressions to pass across her face. Even though Eli is by no means a real child, she still carries a certain amount of childish naivete. That sort of role is typically done in reverse– an adult acts more like a child, as in Will Ferrel’s film Elf. To watch a child play a role where she may appear as a child but is quite clearly beyond her years, yet retains some of that childish behaviour, is not only different but rather impressive to watch when executed so aptly. Lina was chilling and endearing at the same time. One normally doesn’t hold affection for a vampire in vampire films, but it’s hard to not when it comes to Lina.
Do I recommend this film? Yes, even for those who are not big on horror films. As I said, it’s not a traditional horror film, though I won’t say it isn’t a bit disturbing in a number of ways. I think it’s a fascinating film to watch, and I loved its subtlety as well as the exploration of the relationship between the two main characters. It’s a nice break from the run-of-the-mill horror films, as well. I appreciate a nice twist on our typical notions of the classic vampires, so something of this nature is sure to at least pique my interest; holding my interest throughout the duration of the film clearly deserves some praise.

29 Responses to “Let The Right One In”

  1. Joshua Trein said

    You’re very right about the young girl they had play the vampire. I wonder what they told her? “Look sad here, but like you understand what’s going on.” Child actors are the worst!

  2. Serryl said

    I checked out a couple of the movie clips on IMDB, and it doesn’t look all that interesting to me. The pacing in the scenes is too slow and the artificial snow looks unrealistic enough to be distracting. I doubt I could sit through the whole movie if the clips I saw are any indicator, but I might give it a chance based on your recommendation.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      The trailers didn’t get me– it was more the feedback. But if you don’t like subtle films, you probably won’t like this. However, I think it’s quite interesting and special. It isn’t fast-paced by any means, but I don’t consider that to be a necessity in my filmwatching. I also didn’t have a problem with the snow :P.

    • Wolfchild said

      Artificial snow? LOL! Most of the snowy outdoor scenes were filmed not in Stockholm (where the film is set) but in Luleå, which is far in the north of Sweden. The director has mentioned filming outside when it was -35°C! He chose to film up there specifically because he wanted to be sure there was snow.

      • Cantankerous Panda said

        And there we have it. Thanks for the info, Wolfchild :). Also, since you are a huge fan of this film, I’d love to hear any other feedback you have regarding my review. I haven’t talked about the film with that many people, so it would be nice to hear your comments :).

  3. Bryan said

    That movie was excellent. I don’t necessarily like horror films, but this didn’t really come off as a horror film. It was more a horror-influenced drama.

    I’m not sure what else to say: it was simply very well-done. I like the details: i.e. what happens when a vampire enters impermissibly, how one reacts to vampirism, etc.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      I’m glad you liked it! It’s a pseudo-horror film, I guess. That’s why I stressed how much it wasn’t like a conventional horror film– it doesn’t quite fit into what we expect from that genre. I’m so glad you enjoyed it :D.

  4. Nivek said

    I totally agree with you on dubbing… I absolutely loathe it, ESPECIALLY on live-action movies. I have to disagree with you on Subtitles though… I always have them on, if it’s up to me.

    As for the movie, it sounds interesting, and like something I’d probably watch. Seriousness and horror, with disturbing parts of the movie fits my movie needs perfectly at the moment.

    Also, I typed all that, then got distracted, and forgot to hit submit. So… this is about 10 hours later.


    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Did I mess up in my write-up? I always have subtitles on in foreign films.

      Late comments are better than no comments at all :P. Glad it interested you.

  5. gary said

    One of the comments described the snow in LTROI as being artificial. That isn’t the case at all. The outdoor scenes were mostly filmed in Lulea, Sweden which is in the far north close to the Arctic Circle. I believe the daytime scenes were filmed in Blackeberg, near Stockholm in the south. The outdoor scenes are indeed outdoors, and the snow is very real, as is the extreme cold. The actors could not be out in it more than just a very few minutes, and just off-screen were heated tents for them when they weren’t being filmed. The main reason for filming in the far north is that they could work during the day, when it’s mostly dark in the winter anyway. If you’re interested in more information on this movie, go to the discussion forum:

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      That’s also quite interesting. I’m guessing Wolfchild is from that forum, too? Thanks to both of you for the feedback and the information– I love movie trivia, so the extra bits you threw in were much appreciated :). I’d love to hear more comments from the both of you about the review, if you’re up to it.

  6. Wolfchild said

    On the whole your review shows that you enjoyed many of the same things about this film that I did. Kåre and Lina each turned in performances that are astounding. Tomas Alfredson’s touch as a storyteller is masterful. Also, with each new shot Hoyte’s cinematography tells you more and more about the story before any line is spoken or any action takes place.

    Also, when you talk about having affection for Lina, that is easy. Getting us to have affection for Eli is more difficult, but Lina managed to pull that off as well. 🙂

    However, I would take exception with one of your conclusions:

    Caution – SPOILERS ABOUND 😉

    “Even though Eli is by no means a real child, she still carries a certain amount of childish naivete. That sort of role is typically done in reverse– an adult acts more like a child, as in Will Ferrel’s film Elf. To watch a child play a role where she may appear as a child but is quite clearly beyond her years, yet retains some of that childish behaviour, is not only different but rather impressive to watch when executed so aptly.”

    The only way that Eli is not a real child is that he is forever a child. The director left many things open to interpretation, and interpreting Eli as an ancient vampire in twelve year old form would seem to be an obvious interpretation. It is certainly one that the history of vampire films would teach us to expect. However, this view of the Eli is not compatible with a few details. It may verge on churlish to quibble over such details, but in this film details are rather important. In this case the detail I want to quibble over is this: Why would a wily, centuries-old vampire risk that very first encounter with Oskar? Ancient predator could have no logical motivation for this.

    Just previous to the meeting, the film showed us Håkan cleaning his murder kit. Not only are there bloodstains inside the case, but the rinse water comes out of the jug looking distinctly pinkish. Apparently the last time he used that kit, he was successful. The film had so far not shown any reason for a wily Eli to suspect that Håkan was nearing the end of his service life. Eli would have had no need to begin grooming a possible replacement.

    However, this *is* a rather arcane consideration. Eli’s motivations have always been, and always will be, a topic of debate among fans. My opinions are just that – opinions. If you care to, drop by the forums at the fan site you can probably find any number of other fans who disagree with me.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      I see what you’re saying, and I promise to get back to you after I put some more thought into this post (I am on a small vacation right now so I might not be altogether “here” for a few says :)).

      But thank you so much for your feedback! I don’t mind disagreement (well, especially when talking about this movie due to its ambiguities), so your opinion are more than welcome, even if they go against my review. Doesn’t mean I won’t offer a rebuttal, though :P.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Sorry about the delayed comment.

      As for your interpretation of how Eli is like a child, I don’t know that I totally disagree with you. My issue with that theory, however, mostly revolves around how she states that she is quite old but had clearly looked 12 all that time (or, well, I would imagine she’s not slowly aging, though I have nothing conclusive to offer in defense of that assumption). So, she’s had time to mature and learn from the world but within the same body. That, to me, fits more with the classic interpretation of vampires.

      Her motivation behind approaching Oskar could be any number of things– I think it seemed like she was intrigued by him sitting out in the cold all alone like he was, and that she was also probably bored in general. She found a playmate in Oskar. As I said before, I think Eli retains a certain amount of childish naivete, but she also exhibits the more adult side of herself throughout. She’s in this weird limbo when it comes to how she relates to others (if she chooses to relate to anyone at all). I honestly never saw her as “grooming” Oskar to do what Håkan did for her.

      These are also, of course, just my views here :P. I have no problem with disagreement :D.

      • Wolfchild said

        Well, to be perfectly pedantic, Eli does not say that she is quite old. What she says is, “Jag är 12 år, fast det har jag varit väldigt länge,” which both sets of English subtitles translate as, “I’m twelve, but I’ve been twelve for a long time.” This dialog reflects the intention of the author/screenwriter, John Ajvide Lindqvist, who said, “So basically Eli isn’t a 200 hundred year old inside the body of a 12 year old. Eli is a 12 year old who has lived for a very long time.” This also lines up well with how the film seems to show Eli being conflicted initially in her attitude towards Oskar.

        Having this take on the Eli character leads me to the view that except for matters relating to survival, where predatory instincts would dominate, Eli mostly just lives in the moment like any twelve year old. That being the case, when beyond all expectation Oskar presents the opportunity for moments of gentle, intimate human contact, Eli is free to immerse herself in them (within the bounds imposed by her horrific nature).

        Isn’t that what makes life worth living for any of us – when someone can see past our horrific nature? 😀

        • Cantankerous Panda said

          See, I don’t get how her being 12 a long time doesn’t mean she can’t be something like a 30 year-old in a 12 year-old’s body, regardless of what Lindqvist said. Perhaps I’m missing something in the translation, but it seems to me that his quote is contradictory. If he meant that her being 12 for a long time was akin to how people say, “Today was the longest day of my life,” that would be different. Hyperbole would make more sense. Otherwise, I don’t see the difference between saying “She’s XXX old in a 12 year-old’s body” and “She’s a 12 year-old, but she’s been 12 for a very long time.” When we talk about age, we usually mean how many years a person has been alive. Age also correlates with a certain level of maturity and understanding of things, but that’s also something that develops with time and experience. While it’s probable that her brain would stop developing as her body did, assuming she is actually frozen in her 12 year-old state, then she probably lacks the capacity to fully become adult-like; however, I still think that her extended time alive on top of her experiences and her exposure to the horrors of her life (with which she has clearly learned to cope) would bring about a certain level of maturity and make her older than her apparent years.

          I agree with you about part of Eli’s interest in Oskar–him seeing past her horrific nature. But I don’t think her fondness for him entirely contradicts the idea that she’s older than 12. Also, if she only lived in the moment, why would she come back to save Oskar? I think her fondness for him was deeper than that, even if her initial interactions with him were spurred by that “living in the moment” mentality. I think there was a level of curiosity that brought her to him, which I also think about in a child-like manner.

          Is there a place where I can find Lindqvist’s commentary, or is it on the DVD? I don’t mean to dismiss what he says, but I just don’t understand how what he said in that quote can possibly be the case. It might be an issue of semantics or translation issues, but it confuses me. I’d love to read more about what he says of the film. I also want to reiterate that I mean no offense in my rebuttals. Just enjoying the conversation :).

          Thanks! 😀

  7. gary said

    There are at least three different ways to interpret the story. The first is of course what the movie says to you, or at least what you believe it says. The second way is what the novel says to you, or what you believe it says. And the last way is by combining both the film and the novel, and then trying to arrive at an interpretation. None of these ways is totally satisfactory, in my opinion.

    The only thing that really counts is what you simply want to believe. What you are comfortable with. Once you have arrived at that point, then everything is OK. However, for some that isn’t enough. They want everyone to think the same way. A huge waste of time in my opinion. I have my own “take” on the movie which probably agrees with a little of what everyone else believes. You would really have to come up with some really hard evidence to change my mind. The problem then is that there is no hard evidence there. A lot of ambiguities, sure, but nothing you could prove beyond a shadow of a doubt. In the end, it all comes down to what you want to believe.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      It’s those ambiguities that make the film (and further discussion about the film) so much more entertaining! And I wasn’t asking for your opinion just to have you agree with me :P. I was curious to get more points of view, as not many people have seen the movie. I’m pretty open to numerous opinions about the film because I don’t think it’s that concrete, even if my opinions come of as being “absolutes”. If you gave a different interpretation of the film, or think I’m off on certain marks, I’d love to hear your views :).

  8. richardsblah said

    I loved the movie, and just finished reading the book. I was impressed by how faithful the movie was to the original source material and thought the excised parts of the book left the movie much richer.

    What both the book and movie seem to make clear is that, while his last venture may have been successful, Håkan is not a natural killer. In fact, he’s pretty crap at it. He can’t even kill himself properly. Eli recognises something in Oskar that Håkan doesn’t have, but it’s left vague whether that is the driving force behind her attentions.

    The movie, more so than the book, allows you to interpret events and motivations for yourself, and that’s one of it’s great strengths.

    Best film of 2009, in my opinion.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      I haven’t read the book, but it sounds interesting. I am glad that the film is that close to the source material, as well. I agree with you about the room to interpret– that was a big plus for the film and the story.

      Thanks for the feedback :).

  9. Wolfchild said

    She can learn new things, but her viewpoint will always be that of a twelve year old. Her thought processes will always be those of a twelve year old. The comments that I quoted by John Ajvide Lindqvist were actually made by him in English on the commentary track from the UK Let The Right One In DVD. I have a transcript of that commentary posted on my web page. He makes those comments at about 00:58:13.

    The difference between saying “She’s XXX old in a 12 year-old’s body” and “She’s a 12 year-old, but she’s been 12 for a very long time” is that being an “XXX old in a 12 year-old’s body” would mean that she has the viewpoint of a XXX year old. In Eli’s case, that would mean thinking and perceiving like a man of many years instead of like a twelve year old. I can try to illustrate the difference with an example: When Eli tells Oskar his name and Oskar repeats it in a surprised tone, Eli has a shy, vulnerable demeanor, like, “Is something wrong with the name Eli?” This would be a natural reaction for a twelve year old. If it really is a man of many years showing that reaction, that would be the product of shrewd calculation. That would make Eli a master of manipulation.

    It is JAL’s intention that it be viewed as the natural reaction of a twelve year old. It is not that hard to *think* about the events you saw on the screen and imagine that Eli actually was a master manipulator. Most of the history of vampire films has trained us to think that. However, when you are actually watching Lina Leandersson’s portrayal of Eli, it is almost impossible to believe that Eli is anything other than a twelve year old. Try it and see if you can actually make yourself believe that Eli is not twelve while watching the actual film.

    Contrast Eli with, say Claudia from Interview With A Vampire. Claudia acts and talks like an adult woman, because her cognitive processes have grown while her body has not. This has not been true for Eli.

    BTW: What reasonable person would take offense at debate? I love discussing this film, but discussing it with an echo chamber would be boring in the extreme. 😉

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      I will have to visit your site and read his comments! I love hearing from the creators of films :).

      I don’t think Eli’s fully an adult in a child’s body. I see Eli as a mix– I can’t see her as just a twelve year-old who happens to be a vampire because of all that having a prolonged lifetime at that age entails, as well as the nature of her lifestyle. So I can understand the idea that she has some of the typical twelve year-old reactions going on but I also think she has a mix of other more mature and worldly responses.

      I haven’t seen Interview With A Vampire in quite awhile, so I can’t really recall much about Claudia. My sister mentioned her to me in relation to this topic, but I think she was saying Claudia was more like Eli. But you might be right about processing the film after-the-fact. I recall thinking that she had that mix going on while I was watching the film, but perhaps all that I am recalling from the film is getting muddled by my previous experiences with other vampire films. I will have to re-watch it at some point to re-evaluate this situation, I think.

      And I share your sentiments about debate :). Some people take counter-opinions to be attacking or offensive, and while I didn’t want to assume you’d be a person of that nature, I wanted to make sure that my opinions were not coming across too strongly. I have a history of voicing my strong opinions and sometimes having my intentions misinterpreted :P. I’m very much enjoying the conversation, though :D.

  10. gary said

    I can remember seeing “Interview with the Vampire” several times, and I’ve also read the book. Personally, there’s simply no way I could compare Eli with Claudia. Claudia was every bit an adult in a child’s body, and not a character that I liked at all. Claudia did come to a bad end, but it was probably for the best. She did not enjoy in the least being an adult in a child’s body. Eli to me is just the opposite. She is unhappy, but I think mostly because she is a child and has to bear adult responsibilities. I like what the author said in his commentary. He said that Eli, with Oskar as a friend, had the opportunity to be a child again for the first time in a very long time. I know it’s difficult to accept the idea of a 200 year old who is actually a child; albeit a very intelligent child. But the author stated that his intention was that Eli would be a child who had lived for a very long time; not a 200 year old adult in a child’s body. Also Eli is a creature of fantasy. That she doesn’t exist is not the point though. In my opinion, fantasy does not know any limits, whereas fiction has to have an element of reality to it. If you take the vampire out of LTROI, you are left with a story that is basically true. When you add the vampire, you have added the element of fantasy. In my opinion, the authors imagination in writing a fantasy has no limits. I’ll close by saying that the author, as is his prerogative, created Eli as a child who has lived a very long time. While I may or may not agree with him, I have to respect his intentions.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Like I said, I haven’t seen the film in a long time, so I really can’t comment about how Claudia was in the film. I just thought it was funny that she was brought up as an example to me by two different people but with different conclusions :P.

      I do think this resonates with me the most: “He said that Eli, with Oskar as a friend, had the opportunity to be a child again for the first time in a very long time.” That idea works for me, but you can still see the other aspects of her experiences creeping through every so often.

      I respect the author/director’s intentions, as well, and I always appreciate knowing more about that. But it doesn’t mean I must agree with the portrayal, feel it was done appropriately/well, or think that the intentions were the best for the story (not saying that’s all the case here, but making that as a general point). My contention with his intentions is just that it’s impossible for me to see her as *just* a 12 year-old who also happens to be a vampire. Part of what informs her character is the fact that she has been alive for a long time, and that she does need to feast on blood for her own survival. So I guess my compromise would be that she’s a “twelve year-old*” vampire, with a pretty big emphasis on that asterisk :P.

  11. gary said

    This is one of those situations where we must agree to disagree.

  12. Tentacles said

    Saw this film a little while ago, recorded on the sky+ box as it was on FX here in the UK, well I loved it! So much! Just… everything about this film, I don’t know how to explain my love for this film! I’ve still got it recorded and will force my sister to watch it next time she comes home (which isn’t too long I don’t think!) and I’m actually really looking forwards to watching it again, then.

    Also, great review, I totally agree, I watch loads of subtitles, although mainly anime, so personally I am used to subtitles, and I try and read them quickly so I can focus on the pictures too :d.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      I am glad you enjoyed it! It’s really a beautifully subtle film. I should probably buy it, too :P. And yeah, subtitles CAN be tricky but I just don’t like dubs. They never work out well, in my opinion (except for Cowboy Bebop :P).

      Thanks for the feedback!

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