We are down to the last few days of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature. It’s been a fun ride with some amazing movies but we do still have four days left. With that in mind, for day 28 we are taking a look at Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish horror movie Let The Right One In from 2008.
Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let The Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in) is classed as a romantic horror which is possibly a little strange given the young age of its lead characters. Never exploiting the topic, however, Let The Right One In is an incredibly original approach to the horror romance genre. Above all else, it is a fantastic vampire themed horror movie featuring stand out acting and an intriguing plot. Without further ado, let’s take a look. As always I will give a quick breakdown of the movie which you can skip if you like.
We have been reviewing a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022 leading up to Halloween. I intended these reviews to be a bit of a shorter format but it kind of didn’t work out that way. Still, we have four days remaining so keep checking back. We are featuring a range of movies from horror classics to international hits and a few indie darlings. You can check out the entire K-O-Ween feature by clicking right here.
Let The Right One In starts off with 12 year old Oskar, played by Kåre Hedebrant, looking out of the window of his tower block apartment. A taxi pulls up and an older man gets out with a young girl. Walking away from the window, Oskar mimics himself stabbing someone while demanding they “Squeal like a pig!”. Oskar places the knife under the mattress and gets in bed.
The next day we see Oskar in school as a lesson about a murder investigation is taking place. Oskar engages with the teacher which draws the ire of his classmates. It becomes apparent, as Oskar is shoved up against a locker, that he is the victim of bullying. Outside of the school, Oskar pulls out his knife once again seemingly fantasising about defending himself from said bullies.
Later on, we see the old man, Håkan played by Per Ragnar, who was with the young girl earlier heading out to the woods with a blood stained water container. Håkan asks someone walking past him for the time. The man inquires as to what Håkan is holding, he explains it is Halothane and immediately attacks the man, incapacitating him with the gas. Håkan hangs the man from a tree and begins to drain his blood into a container.
Outside of the tower block, Oskar takes his knife and begins stabbing at a tree. Continuing the scene from his bedroom while fantasising about taking revenge on his bullies. He instructs his imaginary victim to “squeal like a pig”. Behind him, the young girl who recently moved in watches. The girl, Eli played by Lina Leandersson, asks him what he is doing. Oskar claims he is doing nothing and asks the girl where she lives. She tells Oskar she lives next door to him and then tells him that they can’t be friends.
Later on, we see someone talking to Håkan. It would seem Håkan was disturbed when stealing blood from his victim. Angered, the person asks Håkan whether they need to take care of the issue themselves. Moving on, Oskar is in class when the teacher tells them about a young boy being murdered. They inform the class that councillors will be at the school for the students and that they should go straight home from school. Oskar heads to the toilet at the end of the day to hide from his bullies before he can leave. When he gets home, he hears his mum talking on the phone about the recent murders. Oskar clips articles from the paper talking about murders and adds them to a scrapbook of similar articles.
Outside of the tower block later that day, Oskar sits playing with a Rubik’s cube. Eli appears behind him and tells him that she wants to be alone. Oskar tells her that he has been their longer so she should go. She asks him what he is doing and he shows her the Rubik’s cube. Handing it to her, he shows her how it works. Telling her he will see her tomorrow, Eli watches him leave as she plays with the puzzle. Her stomach cramps, seemingly out of hunger. This starts a series of interactions between the two children as they grow closer and closer over time.
Let The Right One In is classed as a romantic horror. Featuring a blossoming relationship between two people who simply don’t fit in. Later story revelations lend an element of progressiveness to the story. There is something of a feeling of hopelessness to Let The Right One In. Its dark tone is perpetuated by an oppressive environment full of poverty. The snowy landscape and feeling of permanent winter lends a sense of desolation to the film. Cramped tower blocks and a cast of down on their luck residents only add to this.
Oskar and Eli are complicated characters. Badly bullied and with a home life marked by a lack of attention and poverty. Oskar is developing homicidal thoughts and yearns for revenge against those that wrong him. Eli’s history hints at a world of persecution and hurt. She has an odd relationship with the man she lives with and presents a somewhat hostile personality to Oskar. As the two characters begin to understand their similarities, they grow closer and closer.
Let The Right One In is as much of a drama as it is a horror movie. It is extremely slow paced and takes its time developing the relationship of its two main characters. The horror themes are always present but the romance element is never pushed to the background. We are supposed to understand these two young people and to appreciate why they would gravitate toward each other in a world that doesn’t welcome them at all. It’s an interesting story and the unusual main characters only add to that.
For those of you who don’t know, Let The Right One In was remade by a UK and US team back in 2010 and titled Let Me In. Starring Chloe Moretz, the English language version is, obviously, far more widely known than the original. This, naturally, begs the question why did I choose to cover the Swedish version? The answer to that is pretty simple. The Swedish version is, in my opinion, a better movie.
I watched the Swedish original about a year before the English language version so, admittedly, there was an element of familiarity with it. With this in mind I watched the English version again a year or so later to offer it another chance to impress. Both times I felt that it was significantly inferior to the original version.
Let Me In is certainly not a bad film and it is a fantastic option for anyone who doesn’t want to sit reading subtitles. You won’t lose a huge amount by picking one over the other. I feel the original version, however, has much better pacing, a more interesting setting, a darker tone, and, above all else, better performances from the main cast. Chloe Moretz is absolutely fine in the role of Abby but the chemistry of the two main characters was not that of the original. It’s worth noting that Tomas Alfredson was not in favour of this remake and did not see the need for it. Some dismissive comments from Let Me In’s production team really soured me on their approach. It’s worth remembering that there is very little respect in the movie industry and the bottom line is the most important thing.
We have reviewed many horror movies with strong drama elements here on Knockout Horror. We haven’t, however, reviewed many with such a strong romance subplot as that of Let The Right One In. The relationship that develops between Eli and Oskar takes centre stage here and the horror aspect is really more of just a backdrop. This lends the movie a somewhat unique feeling. Oskar is a troubled child and Eli is even more complex. There relationship shouldn’t really work but it does. The movie plays off of the fact that strong connections can form between people who feel ostracised.
The focus on the romance element between the two characters doesn’t mean that Let The Right One In entirely sacrifices its horror leanings, however. Naturally the movie is toned down somewhat from the source novel but we still have a significant horror element here. There are a number of scenes that are simply traditional horror. The final few scenes, in particular, are pretty damn graphic. The near two hour runtime means that these scenes have to be spaced out but they are very much there and extremely effective. Let The Right One In is simply a different approach to horror and a fascinating one at that. It bears mention, however, that fans of fast paced horror will probably want to think hard before devoting an hour and fifty four minutes to the film.
Much of Let The Right One In’s horror element comes from the hugely oppressive environment afforded by the dark, snow covered landscape. This is something I think the original does a lot better than the American remake. The poverty filled tower blocks and apartments adorned with 80’s furniture offers a feeling of destitution to the film. Added to this, many of the scenes occur at night. The lack of light pollution in the incredible Swedish town the movie is set in makes night time feel almost completely black. Events often take place in the shadows of trees or under bridges. You can almost imagine how those places would feel in real life which only adds to the horror aspect.
Even during the daytime the landscape feels hostile and unwelcoming. Iced over lakes make for a perfect environment to hide a body and the blood stained snow creates a hugely impactful image. Being set in the 80s, the incandescent lighting seems to only add to the feeling of gloom. Even interior shots feel dull and depressing. This is all very deliberate and works perfectly given the context of Oskar and Eli’s situation.
Cinematography, as a whole, is fantastic. Generally shot in a fairly simple manner, the 2:35.1 aspect ratio feels very fitting to capture outdoor shots of tall trees, snow blanketed streets, and frozen ponds. Interior shots are dimly lit and make the most of the interesting closeup character shots afforded by the camera. Set design is very fitting for the 80’s setting and the abundance of brown highlights the bleakness of the character’s home lives.
Huge credit has to go to the young cast of Let The Right One In. Apparently the filmmakers didn’t want to cast experienced actors in the role so spent a year auditioning children from local schools. The result was the casting of Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli. Both are absolutely pitch perfect in their respective roles. Kåre Hedebrant is the primary focus of the movie and does a fantastic job carrying every scene. He is entirely believable as a complicated boy tortured by bullies and developing homicidal feelings of revenge.
Lina Leandersson does not feature as heavily but her performance is equally as brilliant. She is utterly convincing as the young girl hiding something dark from Oskar. She is tasked with having a more dynamic personality than Oskar but does great with each presented scenario. These roles are undeniably complex and the young actors deserve all the praise in the world for how well they do.
Let The Right One In is, in my opinion, close to a horror masterpiece but it may not be for everyone. As I mentioned before, it is a slow paced movie and the horror element is more of a backdrop than anything. There are a few scenes that may unsettle viewers but this is, first and foremost, a movie about two people who feel ostracised and find comfort in each other’s presence. If you are looking for fast paced thrills then this is most definitely not the movie for you. Let The Right One In wants you to sit down and become enveloped in its story and environment.
The characters presented here are the driving force behind the movie. The contrast between good and evil begs a number of questions from the viewer and this is exactly what the movie is intending to do. It wants to get into your head and make you question whether a person is justified in seeking revenge and whether they can still be considered a good person. It wants you to ask yourself what you would do in the interests of survival and what lengths you would go to for the person you love.
Rarely in horror do you see such complex characters and rarely in horror do you have such a reason to think about a movie when it is finished. Nothing here is black or white, much like it never is in everyday life. It’s this exact thing that makes Let The Right One In such a special movie. It manages to stay with you and does so in such an artful manner that it almost makes you forget that you are watching a horror. It is an incredible movie and essential viewing for all fans of horror.
Let The Right One In is a slow paced, brooding horror romance featuring a pair of young characters that connect due to a feeling of displacement and disconnection from the world around them. Dark and somewhat disturbing, it is a movie that wants to get into the head of the viewer and presents them with a world that is not simply black or white. The characters in the movie are deeply troubled and complex. Rarely in horror do you see such well developed characters and the fantastic acting from the young leads only elevates the story.
Perhaps not for everyone, Let The Right One In is in no rush to get through its story and may not appeal to fans of fast paced horror. It is, first and foremost, a romance built against a backdrop of horrific events and an oppressive landscape. If you enjoy slow burn horror with deep stories, this is the perfect movie for you. It is impossible not to get invested in the relationship between Oskar and Eli and the movie is, at times, genuinely unsettling. One of the best horror movies of the 2000s, Let The Right One In is essential viewing for all horror fans and a nigh on perfect horror movie.