Just when it seems the vampire film is doomed to an eternity of drippy teen Goth-drams (*cough* Twilight), this Swedish chiller delivers a much needed transfusion of ideas and excitement. In early 80s Stockholm 12 year old Oskar suffers daily at the hands of school bullies, and is smitten with Eli, the strange girl who has moved into the flat next door. Standing between a happy union is the fact that she's a vampire, but even that has its uses in this sparkling coming-of-age horror story.
Karl Robert Lindgren
If you experience a slight case of fidgets in the first thirty minutes of Let the Right One In, fear not. This is not an everyday bloodsucker movie, and it takes a while to settle into its groove.
Devoting time and attention to supporting characters and subplots as well as the leads, director Tomas Alfredson's faith in John Adjive Lindqvist's script (adapted from his own book) makes this one of the year's most touching, surprising and absorbing films.
The care is also there in the casting, from the two young leads to minor characters such as the older brother of Oskar's tormentor, or a grieving, vengeance seeking friend of Eli's victims (Lindgren).
But, the film belongs to Hedebrant as Oskar and Leandersson as Eli, whose chemistry fizzes so brightly, when Eli flees late in the day the sense of loss flies off the screen.
Rather than going for cute or sassy, Hedebrant's sad-faced, divorced parents punching bag is a tightly wound bundle of bruised nerves, yearning for revenge with a pocket knife and collecting a scrapbook of grisly press cuttings.
Leandersson's Eli is a reluctant monster, with strung-out complexion when craving a fix and positively glowing after her iron intake, expertly delivering the rich dialogue ("I'm 12. But I've been 12 for a long time").
Condensing an originally planned two movies into a single script, Lindvqist jettisons entire characters and subplots from his novel, wisely focussing on Oskar's bumbling attempts to woo the strange girl next door.
But, he retains the book's nose for blood black comedy. Eli's aged "father" Hakan (Rangar) cannot catch a break when attempting to tap victims' jugulars for his mistress, having to contend with nosy poodles and raucous jocks, and Oskar's method for confronting the class bully (a slappable Rydmark) is cheerfully over the top.
Alfredson knows instinctively how to shoot this bizarre love story, using ink black night skies and dazzling snowy streets to convey the freezing temperatures, subtly off-kilter period detail, and vintage John Carpenter-like framing to crank up suspense.
His depiction of Eli's vampirism is also sure to become shorthand for future fang-films. Her habit of wearing pyjamas in zero temperatures, the way she ever-so-slightly glides when jumping from a climbing frame, and the rustle of wind when she takes flight are spot-on.
When it comes to instant classic moments the director again cannot be faulted. The spectacular immolation of a tortured better-dead-than-fed vampire, a climactic rescue that is both graphically gory and heartwarming, or the film's best moment, when Eli steps uninvited into Oskar's house and suffers the consequences, are perfectly judged.
As layered as its title (lifted from the Morrissey song, Let The Right One Slip In), this is the most original vampire movie since Guillermo del Toro's Cronos, and is likely to hit every top ten films list of the year.