I wouldn’t recommend anyone to read John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel before watching this screen adaptation. As I stepped into the theater for the press screening I had certain anticipations, which is never the right approach. In the end my slight disappointment forced me to think hard about the film as an independent piece of art and what I would have felt about it had I not read the book. If you can get by these initial hurdles, as a fan of the novel, it is possible to appreciate both director Tomas Alfredson’s atmospheric work and Lindqvist’s mostly wise choices in writing the adaptation.
The year is 1981 and we’re in Blackeberg, a small suburb to Stockholm. In the dead of winter, 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is bullied every day by a group of classmates and tries in vain to work up the courage to defy them. One evening he’s approached by his new neighbor, Eli (Lina Leandersson), a strange, anemic-looking girl with hair black as the night and personal hygiene that leaves a lot to desire. She becomes his friend and as she learns what’s going on at his school she urges him to fight back.
Meanwhile, the grisly murder of a teenage boy is all over the news and a group of local drunks are about to discover that someone is after more blood. The man living with Eli, Håkan (Per Ragnar), killed the boy to keep the girl alive alive but his clumsy ways are threatening their situation, forcing Eli to expose herself to one of the drunks. The only fear Eli has though is to lose Oskar, a boy she hasn’t felt this way about for hundreds of years…
Dark and wintry
After working mostly in television, Alfredson found an exciting source for a horror movie, a novel that deals with alienation, pedophilia, cross-gender issues and vampires, but its author had his work cut out for him in trying to write the screenplay. Some of what didn’t make the cut were the depth of the emotions between some of the local drunks, Håkan’s transformation into an unkillable monster and the gripping extent of the alcoholism that keeps Oskar’s father away from his son. Those ingredients are missed, especially Håkan’s tragicomic ramblings. Still, not everything can make it into the movie. What Lindqvist has focused on is the moving relationship between Oskar and Eli and most of the memorably horrific scenes from the novel have been effectively staged by the director, not least the ending where the bullies face Eli’s wrath.
Cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema keeps the images dark and wintry (perfect for bloodsuckers) and I’m sure many of us who grew up in the ’80s recognize the period details. Hedebrant and Leandersson look very natural together and Ragnar is great as the thoroughly pathetic serial killer. There are nevertheless moments when the story feels a bit rushed, lessening the impact of certain relationships; the part with Oskar’s father should have been cut altogether.
Lindqvist’s work has been compared to the usual suspects, such as Anne Rice. In a time when not only the vampire genre but the literary reviews are safely predictable it is nice to see a flash of originality, even if the film might disappoint fans of the book.
Let the Right One In 2008-Sweden. 115 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Carl Molinder, John Nordling. Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Screenplay, Novel: John Ajvide Lindqvist. Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema. Cast: Kåre Hedebrant (Oskar), Lina Leandersson (Eli), Per Ragnar (Håkan), Henrik Dahl, Karin Bergquist, Peter Carlberg… Ika Nord.
Trivia: Original title: Låt den rätte komma in. The title is borrowed from a song by Morrissey. Remade in the U.S. as Let Me In (2010). Later a stage play.
Last word: “It’s set in a suburb outside Stockholm, and it’s very, very typical late 1950s suburb. The suburbs of Stockholm were built because Sweden wasn’t involved in the second World War, so we were very wealthy in the 1950s and the 1960s, so there were a lot of very special suburbs built around Stockholm with a special look. But we did need to have the cold and the snow, and Stockholm isn’t so cold as people might think it could be, but every five or every six years, there is a proper winter. But we had to have to have the cold and snow so we shot it partially in the very north of Sweden, in a town called Luleå – all the exteriors, or nearly all the exteriors.” (Alfredson, FirstShowing.net)