Firstly, at least Momentum didn't use the dreadful set of sub-titles that marred the US release back in March. No worries here as we get the original theatrical release sub-titles. Does it matter, you may ask? Well, it does when much of the stuff you read at the bottom of the screen actually conveys a lot of character nuances. And in a deeply atmospheric and character driven story like this, it's a vital element that should be preserved.
A low budget Swedish film based on John Ajvide Lindqvist's book (and he wrote the screenplay too) and beautifully directed by Tomas Alfredson, it's one of those rare horror films that is able to articulate far more sensitive and absorbing material beyond the standard slasher/gore tropes. Yes, on the surface it is about a vampire but the entire film is about going below the surface, into an ambiguous netherworld where your preconceived ideas of horror are challenged. Not only does it concern us with a fragile, young adolescent boy, Oskar, beginning his journey into adulthood, and forming a relationship with what we assume is a young girl, but it also deals with politics, parental roles, fight or flight choices and bullying at school - the victimisation that Western society seems hell bent on perpetuating through sex, violence, drink and drugs.
The beautiful cleverness of this film is that it takes the now rather camp and redundant (and predominantly male) vampire/blood letting sexual symbolism and reinvests it in the naive proto-sexuality of adolescents, enriched particularly within the perpetual girl/androgynous boy character of Eli ("I'm not a girl" she/he demands and there is also a very brief shot of Eli's scarred crotch suggestive of the castration that the book is more explicit about). Whilst she/he is a feral creature, attacking adults for blood (and, note, miles away from the anodyne creatures of the Twilight saga. Drinking the blood of animals, what's that all about!) and scuttling up trees and the sides of buildings, Eli is also an object of growing affection for Oskar. It also takes vampire lore and adds a few twists. We are actually shown why vampires require us to invite them in when Eli demonstrates a bloody form of rejection to Oskar, suggestive of haemophilia and menstruation. There is also an undercurrent of greater threat in the film, set as it is in 1982, with the Soviets on the doorstep potentially aggravating their Swedish neighbours and the arrival of Eli and Hakan as symbolic immigrant refugees.
Many will argue that it has lost some of the power of the book but the paedophile storyline wasn't the one that Alfredson wanted to tell. But the sense that Eli is 'grooming' Oskar to replace Hakan still tentatively hovers in the background. The bullying material remains powerful even if some have argued that the depiction of Oskar as a photogenic blonde waif doesn't work in that context. I'd disagree, the character is still sensitive and introverted and that's probably enough to get anyone bullied these days.
Beyond this central repositioning, which in itself throws up a lot of moral questions about the pair of children who decide to 'go steady' half way through the film and who cannot possibly maintain their Peter Pan status as Oskar will grow into an adult whilst Eli remains forever a 12 year old, the film explores the family structure and parental responsibility. Oskar is being brought up by his mother and there is a very strange moment in the film when he goes to visit his estranged father and their bonding is interrupted by the arrival of a male friend. There is an uncomfortable silence and Alfredson suggests to me that the visitor is more than just a friend and is actually the father's lover. They obviously enjoy a drink which also fits in with the original book's view that the father is an alcoholic. This view of broken parental, adult, relationships is also mirrored in Eli's dependence on the odd old man Hakan. In Lindqvist's book Hakan is actually a teacher who has been dismissed after being discovered as a paedophile. In the film, it's never suggested and Hakan remains an ambiguous character who might or might not be Eli's father. He's also pretty inept at trying to slaughter various people in order for Eli to feed and this leads to his grisly undoing and one of many horrific scenes in the film.
The film concentrates on the growing relationship between Oskar and Eli, a brittle affair that's akin to the immaculate snowscapes that Alfredson and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema capture. They suggest the universal aspect of adolescent relationships, that may be frozen in time briefly but evaporate as Oskar leaves his Scandanavian suburban bubble at the film's conclusion. The suburbia he leaves is populated by sadistic schoolboys, as feral as Eli in some respects, but with whom Oskar learns to deal with his/her assistance. There are also the drunken locals Ginia, her boyfriend, Lacke, and his best friend Jocke, who all fall victim to Eli and Hakan. Ginia begins to transform into a vampire and there's a very disturbing sequence of events where she's attacked by the cats in Lacke's flat and later, understanding her fate whilst hospitalised, gets a nurse to open her curtains which results in her prompt combustion as the sunlight floods onto her bed.
It's a deliberately paced film, building a somnambulistic, mesmeric, fragile quality, with a painterly eye to the visions of cityscapes and landscapes frozen in the Scandanavian winter. The film is augmented by a blue, silver and white colour palette for the exteriors and grey and browns for the interiors with lighting very diffused. Red blood looks almost black in most scenes. The brilliant central performances by Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli are tender and evocative, understated and sensitive. The score from Johan Söderqvist is superb, at once melancholic and romantic, hopeful and scary.
The Blu Ray transfer is lovely but not one you would offer particularly as a demonstration of what exactly the format can do for high definition images. The detail and contrast is excellent and it perfectly captures the colour and lighting schemes employed by Alfredson. The transfer is spotless, handles the majority of the night scenes exceptionally well and is crisp and brilliant for the daylight snowscapes. The DTS-HD audio in Swedish is on the whole very good, quite low key but bursting into life during the more frenetic sequences adding the necessary jolt to some of the jumpier moments in the film. It handles the dialogue and music without any fuss and is exceptionally clear.
The UK edition boasts a lively commentary track from Alfredson and Lindqvist, some deleted scenes and a very unrepresentative theatrical trailer which seems to market the film as a dull slasher flick. As a footnote, the rights to remake the film are with the relaunched Hammer production team and Cloverfield director Matt Reeves is attached to the project.
Screenshots courtesy of Blu-Ray.com and Cinemasquid
Let The Right One In (Momentum: Blu-Ray - Region B - 1 Disc - Cert 15 - MP 879 BR - Released 3rd August 2009)
Cathode Ray Tube Let The Right One In
- Freelance writer and film and television researcher (for hire).
He has contributed to a number of books and websites about British archive television and cinema as well as recent television series including work for Moviemail, Frame Rated and Arrow Video. Publications include I.B Tauris's 'Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour - A Critical
Celebration of the Matt Smith and Steven Moffat Era' (2013) and 'Doctor
Who - The Pandorica Opens' (2010).
- Adventures in Prime Time
- Behind the Sofa
- Blogtor Who
- British Television Drama
- Cardigans & Tweed
- Dez Skinn
- Dirty Modern Scoundrel
- Doctor Who Appreciation Society
- Doctor Who Newspage
- Feeling Listless
- Frame Rated
- Gareth Bundy's Blog
- Green Carnation Prize
- Int. Jason Arnopp's Mind - Day/Night
- Island of Dreams
- Jonathan Melville
- Ka-os Theory
- Lady Don't Fall Backwards
- Life of Wylie
- Life on Magrs
- Narrative Drive
- Paul Mount's World of Stuff
- Pseudo Random Noise
- Radio Free Skaro
- TV Lover
- Tachyon TV
- Tardis Newsroom
- Television Heaven
- The Custard TV
- The Digital Bits
- The Fan Can
- The Medium is Not Enough
- The Railway Arms
- The Thumbcast
- Thierry Attard's Double Feature
- from the north...
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