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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year:

Let the Right One In
Directed by
Tomas Alfredson
Aby Davis review

Something spooky has come over me, in recent months I have found myself cautiously peering into the genre of horror and being pleasantly thrilled with the results. Previous years saw me cowering behind cushions, giant popcorn and other people at anything slightly scarier than Jurassic Park and tentative peeps into sleepover horror films could stretch as far The Others but not further.

Embarrassing really, that anything with nice, familiar Nicole Kidman in it sent me practically headfirst into my neighbour’s sleeping bag. But now our country is under supernatural attack and it’s about right I got my head out of happy land... vampires are everywhere. Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series have spawned a host of copycat paperbacks and re-birthed forgotten classics, teenage girls have been sent into giddy, neck pinching fits with her portrayal of sexy, brooding Edward Cullen who is a ‘vegetarian’ and plays the piano. The Gavin and Stacey boys disappointed with their depiction of Lesbian Vampire Killers but the Twilight film has generated enough hype to keep the public stocked with a few years of vampire romance blockbusters, and with every mainstream trend exists a quiet independent version, nudging its nose into the limelight and satisfying broadsheet critics with its arty cinematography.

It’s a shame that Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One in was released on the wave of Twilight hysteria, as it is a powerful little film in its own right and doesn’t deserve the inevitable comparisons.

Set in a Swedish winter in the 1980’s, the council block backdrop provides a conveniently dark and moody landscape for the new vampire in town. 12 year old Eli and her ‘father’ move next door to Oskar, quiet, lonely and bullied by his classmates. To his surprise, the strange girl he meets in the solitary silence of snow and darkness takes an interest in him, despite initially warning him that they can’t be friends.

The scene is set for a tender love story, two misfit children finding solace in each other’s company, something a few audience members weren’t expecting. A few people left the cinema after the first appearance of subtitles, and during the end credits the couple seated next to me could be heard to murmur, ‘wasn’t quite the exciting, fighting flick we were expecting was it?’.

The film is just under two hours but it does feel slow at times, shots of sky speckled with softly falling snowdrops cast a hush beauty over the film and Oskar walks everywhere with a slow world weary trudge as snow crunches beneath his feet. Eli herself is a beautiful, petit brunette with huge Disney princess eyes and a shy, cartoonish smile, but her hair is lank and unbrushed and her fingernails are thick with crusted blood. It may be beautiful, but this film doen’t shy away from gore, in fact, there’s plenty of it.

An early shot shows Eli’s ‘father’ draining a lifeless corpse of blood as it hangs from a tree and someone’s poodle watches. The man flees and the dog walkers stumble across the scene and gape in horror as their dog laps at the dark puddle on the floor. Eli hides in the shadows under a bridge waiting for a midnight snack, and with animalistic grunts and growls leaps onto a passing well-wisher, more dark blood splattered on the pure snow. The flat she lives in is dank and seedy in contrast to Oskar’s bright apartment. As the children tap out morse code to each other through the walls, one might wonder why Eli appears impervious to Oskar’s human charms, but a scene in which Oskar attempts to make them blood brothers reveals Eli as the terrifying monster she can be. She may be a child, but she is definitely not a ‘good’ vampire. The special effects are used on Eli with great affect, breaking up the stark realism of Oskar’s lonely world as her innocent features shift into exaggerated menace with all the ease of Japanese anime. Let the Right one In has no room for moralistic pretension; it instead deals with the ideas of good and bad with childish logic. Eli is a murderuous vampire, but empowers Oskar in his fight against school playground bullies. The shocking climactic scene in a swimming pool is both terrifying and hilarious, concluding the film with a darkly comic victory through blood streaked Bambi eyes.

Leaving the cinema and facing the quiet lull of a night time shopping centre, it was hard not to imagine monkey-like vampires creeping up the dead escalators and scuttling over the blank eyes of sleeping shops. Let the Right One In creeps under your skin like the cold of softly falling snow, chilly yet with a confusing nostalgia of childhood fear, and comfort. While films like Twilight and Lesbian Vampire Killers aim for immediate appeal with crowd pleasing gimmicks, Let the Right One in relies on the kind of good storytelling that stays with you till that murky space between consciousness and sleep.
© Aby Davis May 8th 2009

Aby is a graduate of the Creative Writing programme at the University of Portsmouth

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