Although I’d heard good things about the Swedish vampire romance Let the Right One In (2008), I was feeling a little fang-fatigue when the DVD turned up in a supermarket bargain bin a few weeks ago, so I politely passed it over. When I got back to my vamp-loving self again, I was glad to see it reappear in one of the many charity shops I trawl for bargains. Technically, I paid the exact same price for it as I would have done the first time around, but with the added bonus of knowing that my cash was going to a worthy cause, and that my copy was now a one-of-a-kind edition, as some kind soul had decided to warn potential purchasers that it was a foreign film by scrawling the word “SUBTITLES” on the cover with a blue pen, and underlining it twice. As I waited to be served, I wondered if a member of the shop staff might be responsible for this “enhancement”, or if a disgruntled customer had bought it on impulse (the bin was right by the tills, after all), and then rejected it in disgust when they realised they actually had to read the film! Since I was too polite/chicken to mention it while handing over my money, the origin of the writing must remain a mystery forever more…
Regardless of its provenance, I’m glad I finally got around to watching this flick, because it really is a gem. Not strictly speaking a comedy, but I’d say it has a very dry, dark wit to it… “gallows humour”, you might call it (especially since there’s a hanging man pictured on the sleeve… yes, he’s hanging from a tree, but it still counts). The jokes, when they come, are very understated… much like the budding romance that forms the core of the story, and the violence that threatens to derail it. What’s the opposite of “Grindhouse”? I guess that would be “Arthouse”, right? And the word “Art” certainly applies here, considering how beautifully composed and poetic this film is… with its snowy landscapes and stately pacing, it’s almost like the Fargo of horror flicks! I must admit though, when I first started watching it, the muted style and mundane setting had me worried that it might simply be about a crazy girl who thinks she’s a vampire, rather than a kosher creature-of-the-night… thankfully, that wasn’t the case, and there are plenty of scenes which prove her preternatural powers beyond a doubt, and establish the ancient mystical lore that goes along with them. The SFX aren’t especially flashy, or in-your-face, but again that’s part of the charm… spotting something strange happening in the deep background, or hearing the sound of wings flapping softly off-screen. It’s all pretty seamless, really, and totally in-keeping with the laconic tone.
As for the cast, Lina Leandersson does some incredible work as ‘Eli’, the pale (and slightly stinky) vampire girl who risks exposure by helping a human boy fight back against his bullies. There’s a suggestion on the commentary track that the two adolescent leads were somewhat hesitant about the project, and considering all that the story requires them to do I’d say that was fairly understandable… but they both give such wonderfully natural and sensitive performances, under what must have been quite trying and uncomfortable conditions, you can’t help but admire their courage and professionalism. Hopefully they can look back on the experience now (or in a few years time) and take pride in what they have accomplished. Having read a little about the differences between the original novel and the film adaptation (there’s an excellent article at the AV Club, if you’re curious), the former “fat kid” in me does kinda resent the fact that they cast such a thin, pretty boy as ‘Oskar’, who’s supposedly so pudgy that his schoolyard tormenters constantly refer to him as “piggy”, and make him squeal for their sadistic pleasure… but it’s impossible to bear a grudge against Kåre Hedebran, considering how well he plays the part, and the chemistry he has with Leandersson. Plus, I assume it’s against the law to force-feed children for the sake of literary veracity, right? Pesky.
Although the “deleted scenes” barely pass the five minute mark, the commentary track is well worth a listen. For some reason I assumed that it would also be in subtitled Swedish, but Tomas Alfredson (director) and John Ajvide Lindqvist (novelist and screenwriter) both speak impeccable English, with a slightly lilting intonation that’s very easy on the ear… and they deliver a remarkably friendly, insightful and self-deprecating analysis of their own work, with plenty of good humour… plus a few out-of-the-blue references to bygone British comedians like Benny Hill and George Formby for good measure. Random!
Overall, a damn fine DVD… and probably my fave vampire film of all time (so far).