Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In)

Let the Right One In movie poster

 

Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte kom­ma in) is unapolo­get­i­cal­ly a vam­pire sto­ry. It fol­lows most of the rules of the genre but avoids the stan­dard trap­pings of spec­tac­u­lar blood­let­ting (like, say, Blade) and sim­plis­tic sex­u­al metaphors (we’re look­ing at you, Twi­light). Direc­tor Tomas Alfred­son and screen­writer John Ajvide (adapt­ing his own nov­el) are star­tling­ly frank not just in their depic­tions of the rit­u­al­is­tic vio­lence inher­ent in a vampire’s every­day toil, but also in the des­per­ate hungers and desires of all their human char­ac­ters as well.

Nov­el and film are both set in 1980s Swe­den, at a time when the famous­ly inde­pen­dent, neu­tral nation was strug­gling through a Cold War eco­nom­ic reces­sion. 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hede­brant) is meek, frail, and so fair as to seem albi­no. He splits his time between a scold­ing moth­er and a lov­ing but dis­tant father with unex­plained secrets. The only time we see Oskar hap­py is when play­ing in the snow at his father’s rur­al home. An omi­nous guest arrives, mut­ing even con­ver­sa­tion (we nev­er learn the man’s iden­ti­ty, or the rea­son for his smoth­er­ing effect, but for sto­ry pur­pos­es it only mat­ters that Oskar can­not be hap­py even here). Oskar is con­stant­ly bul­lied by school thugs seem­ing­ly inspired by the sav­age tor­tur­ers from the movie Deliv­er­ance: their favorite taunt is to demand he squeal like a pig. The con­stant pres­sure dri­ves him mor­bid­ly inward, rapid­ly becom­ing a poten­tial dan­ger to him­self and oth­ers. He secret­ly col­lects grue­some news­pa­per clip­pings of local crimes, and sneaks out­side at night to play­act his vengeance with match­es and a knife. It’s easy for a 21st Cen­tu­ry view­er to imag­ine Oskar becom­ing a school shoot­er.

Lina Leandersson in Let the Right One InEli (Lina Lean­der­s­son) has been twelve for a long time

A mys­te­ri­ous cou­ple moves in next door in the dead of night: Eli (Lina Lean­der­s­son), a girl appear­ing about his age, and her adult com­pan­ion Håkan (Per Rag­nar). Eli inter­rupts one of Oskar’s soli­tary night­time revenge fan­tasies, and they strike up a sort of friend­ship. As the habit­u­al­ly aloof Eli warms to his com­pa­ny, she advis­es him to fight back against his oppres­sors. When he gets a chance to do so, Hedebrant’s star­tling per­for­mance dur­ing his tri­umph con­veys a dis­turb­ing impres­sion of a too-young boy expe­ri­enc­ing a kind of ecsta­sy. Com­pare and con­trast his obvi­ous plea­sure with the whol­ly dis­pas­sion­ate mur­ders com­mit­ted by Eli and Håkan. One won­ders how Alfred­son direct­ed the young actor towards such a per­for­mance, and how much Hede­brant knew about the sub­text of how the scene would play on the screen. As becomes clear, Eli may not have had the boy’s best inter­ests at heart; was she urg­ing him to stand up for him­self, or set­ting him up for a big­ger fall lat­er? Either way, she suc­ceeds in bind­ing him more close­ly to her.

Although Oskar is pubes­cent, his infat­u­a­tion with her does not seem to be espe­cial­ly sex­u­al. His hungers are more for com­pan­ion­ship and under­stand­ing. Eli says she is “not a girl,” and asks Oskar if he would still like her were she not. With lit­tle hes­i­ta­tion, he answers yes. He catch­es a glimpse of her naked tor­so, see­ing what seems to be a cas­tra­tion mark. But Eli is far more than just not a girl. Sub­tle spe­cial effects give us fleet­ing images of her with eeri­ly enlarged eyes and as an old­er woman. She is per­ma­nent­ly frozen in a state of child­hood, but it seems she hasn’t matured intel­lec­tu­al­ly and emo­tion­al­ly as her body remains in sta­sis (unlike the young char­ac­ter Clau­dia in Anne Rice’s Inter­view With the Vam­pire). As she tells him “I’ve been twelve for a long time.”

Let the Right One InVam­pires are hot stuff in bed

Although it doesn’t resem­ble more typ­i­cal vam­pire tales, Let the Right One In does fol­low most of the mythos: vam­pires have to be invit­ed in (hence the name; to enter unin­vit­ed will cause a painful, bloody death — a fate Eli demon­strates to Oskar to prove her affec­tion for him); any vic­tim bit­ten but not killed will become a vam­pire (Eli is shown to break a victim’s spine after feed­ing — a belat­ed form of mer­cy com­ing from a vam­pire, I sup­pose); house­cats are com­pelled to attack vam­pires (as seen in not one of the most con­vinc­ing spe­cial effects sequences), and sun­light caus­es them to spon­ta­neous­ly com­bust (as seen in one very con­vinc­ing sequence).

Eli shares with Oskar her mot­to “To flee is life. To linger, death.” Like her encour­age­ment to fight back against bul­lies, here is the key to under­stand­ing the mys­tery of her devot­ed human com­pan­ion Håkan. Eli has out­sourced her phys­i­cal needs to her self­less­ly devot­ed ser­vant, essen­tial­ly mak­ing him into a ser­i­al killer on her behalf. What moti­vates him to com­ply? Was he once a boy, like Oscar, that fell in love with her? What­ev­er their bond, she ensures that Oskar is next in line to become her new provider.

After writ­ing the above, I read The A.V. Club’s excel­lent Book Vs. Film: Let the Right One In by Tasha Robin­son (part of a series also includ­ing Watch­men). In short, yes, a great deal need­ed to be omit­ted from the nov­el to shape the sto­ry into a fea­ture film. But Robin­son approves; rather than leav­ing too much out, the movie fruit­ful­ly choos­es a very dif­fer­ent, more inter­nal ver­sion of the sto­ry. Some tid­bits gleaned from the arti­cle that may be of inter­est to any­one else that hasn’t read the book:

  • The book is a more graph­ic, con­ven­tion­al hor­ror sto­ry.
  • Oskar’s father’s friend is a less sin­is­ter char­ac­ter in the book. Sim­ply, he’s a drink­ing bud­dy, and Oskar’s oth­er­wise decent father is appar­ent­ly a mean drunk.
  • The title is derived from a Mor­ris­sey song quot­ed in the book: “Let the right one in / let the old dreams die / let the wrong ones go / They can­not do what you want them to do”
  • The Oskar of the nov­el is over­weight, inspir­ing the bul­lies’ “pig­gy” taunts.
  • The Håkan of the book is a pedophile. Eli encoun­tered him as an adult, and she trades some sex­u­al favors for his ser­vices. Skim­ming the com­ments left below Robinson’s arti­cle, I see most oth­er view­ers inter­pret­ed the movie the same way I did.

Offi­cial movie site: www.lettherightoneinmovie.com

Must read: Let the Wrong Sub­ti­tles in to Let the Right One In. Icons of Fright finds the Eng­lish trans­la­tion lack­ing.

Buy the DVD from Ama­zon and kick back a few pen­nies to The Dork Report.