Post Millennial Trauma: Let the Right One In (2008)

I’ve been putting off this series for a while, as I desperately wanted to do something that isn’t called Let the Right One In for 2008, because I wanted to save it for the Vampire series. Unfortunately for me, looking through the thoroughly underwhelming list of 2008 horror films (there are some good ones in there, Splinter for example, but nothing that I really wanted to do) there was one film that stood out- Sweden’s imperious Let the Right One In. Let me preface this with that I don’t want to talk about the remake at all- this is really more me reminiscing back to seeing this one in the cinema, and the reaction that it left me with. I do hate to go all Knowlesian in a review, but there’s nothing really more to be said about this film critically, and so I’m going to attempt to enunciate what I believe made it so damned successful.

There’s an old saying that goes around: even a blind squirrel can find a nut on some days. This is a saying that really sums up how I discovered this film- I read what is laughably called an article at Gingertown where the morbidly obese sell-out slated the Academy for not allowing this film in as the Foreign Language nominee for Sweden (amusingly, he was, once again, factually miles off base and there were legitimate reasons for it). Now, by this stage, I’d been around the block, and been burnt, enough times to take anything the walking lump of Type 2 diabetes said with enough salt to harden an Elephant’s arteries. However, there was something about this film that caught my eye. Having little faith that it would get a  release anywhere near me (obscure Swedish Horror films don’t tend to go down well with the Camden audience), I promptly forgot about it. Low and behold, next May, Camden Odeon have it on. So, with a spirit of adventure, myself and Mrs. Jarv went to see it.

In a cinema with 4 people in it. If you ever wonder why there’s so much crap out there in the multiplexes- well, there’s your answer.

Let the Right One In tells the story of teenage loser Oskar. He’s got no mates, lives in abject poverty, and really hangs around on the fringes of society. Into his life comes Eli. Eli is (big spoiler this one, for the one person on the planet that doesn’t know) a vampire caught on the cusp of adulthood for all eternity. She’s “looked after” by “The Man” who has the privilege of selecting her victims, killing them and then bringing the blood home to her. Gradually over the course of the film she befriends Oskar before the bloody climax and deeply depressing denoument. This is a very, very powerful film.

The acting in  this film is superb. On the basis that it is, at core, an extended metaphor for paedophile grooming (swap fangs for a facebook account and you’re there), the portrayal of Oskar by Kåre Hedebrant is outstanding. He manages to pathetically shuffle round the screen, portraying a neediness and vulnerability that screams out “victim”. It’s to the film’s immense credit that he manages to carry the film on his shoulders, as a more obvious performance would have fatally ruined it. Secondly, Lina Leandersson is equally fantastic as Eli. This is a performance that combines a sense of sympathy with some extreme savagery and also a certain weariness to really accentuate all the contradictions inherent in a character that’s older than she cares to remember, but still essentially a child. The supporting cast, particularly Per Ragnar as Hakan/ The Man are all on fine form. Nevertheless, this is a film where the acting had to be note perfect. The film hinges on the relationship between the two children- you have to believe that Oskar would come to depend on Eli as his only friend, and that Eli, despite being a vampire has a certain fragility as without this conceit the film would collapse.

There is a lot of gore in this (the man’s final attempt, followed by the acid burning and Eli’s visit to the hospital leaping to mind), and it’s necessary for the film. Eli is a monster- she enslaves men for life and  has them murder innocents so she can feed. However, some of the gore veers a touch towards comedy (the aforementioned scene) and although it does walk this knife-edge, these scenes have an uneasy, farcical quality to them: it is kind-of-funny when Eli drops down on a local degenerate, and it is sort of amusing when the victim spontaneously combusts, but we’re not laughing because it is actually funny, more a nervous chuckle that allows the tension to dissipate slightly, and allows a brief moment of levity to the otherwise relentlessly bleak action on screen.

Which brings me on to the atmosphere of the film. We came out shellshocked. Not because Let the Right One In is particularly frightening, because it isn’t, but because this is an astonishingly sad film. The pathos pours off the screen, from the silent opening to the heart-rending ending, every single frame is testament to a particularly bleak sense of destiny- Let the Right One In is almost beyond nihilistic. The film never actually becomes genuinely frightening, because it can’t. What we are watching here isn’t so much a horror movie as a slowly unfolding tragedy where the ending is as inevitable as it is predictable. That it does play out exactly how we expected it to does not lessen the impact of the ending- knowing Oskar is willingly following a path that many others have already followed with inevitably disastrous results doesn’t supply the moment of catharsis that we need in a film like this. However, that he looks so happy to be on this path, does.

I recently rewatched this film for the express purpose of this review, and it wasn’t as effective for me. There are several serious problems that stop me handing out a maximum, and I actually think I overrated it on first viewing. The first is the CGI- which is crap. The CGI cats in this film are notoriously shoddy, and it deserves all the stick it gets on this front. Secondly, the flash scene of Eli’s mutilated genitals makes absolutely no sense at all. In the novel, apparently, it’s because she is actually a mutilated he, but in the film what we have is a prepubescent teenage girl lift her skirt. It’s probably the sole moment of gratuitous nastiness in the movie, and we, frankly, don’t need to see it. I knew it was coming, so as an experiment watched the film and skipped over the scene- it didn’t make any difference at all.

Overall, this is an excellent film, a really really good modern vampire story. I have no opinion about the remake, although I wish they hadn’t done it, but I do recommend that everyone that can see this film does see this film. It’s truly very good. Sad, but good. I give it 3 goth vampire chicks on a snowy background out of 4. Recommended.

Until next time,

Jarv

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

67 responses to “Post Millennial Trauma: Let the Right One In (2008)”

  1. Frank Marmoset says :

    The problem with this film (and I think it’s a pretty serious problem) is that the vampire is not at all sparkly. I mean, come on, man, you cannot just ignore literally months of well established vampire mythology like that.

    Also, where the eff were the sexy werewolves with their shirts off? Everyone knows wherever there are vampires there are also sexy werewolves not wearing shirts.

    Honestly, it’s like they don’t know anything about vampires in Swedeland.

    • Jarv says :

      You’re right frank. This film is severely lacking rock hard abs.

      And things are just not “perfect” enough.

      Haven’t seen you in a while- how have you been?

      • Frank Marmoset says :

        This is a good review of a very good film, by the way.

        I agree the shot of the mutilated genitals wasn’t really needed. Not that I have anything against shots of mutilated genitals in general (the Transformers films could use a few of those) but the the rest of this film is so understated it seems odd to have this in-your-face LOOK, THAT’S WHERE HIS COCK USED TO BE! moment. Sorry if this opens up the ‘is the remake necessary’ debate again, but I liked that they didn’t do it in Let Me In.

        P.S. I quite like the CGI cats. It’s a crappy effect, but it made me laugh a lot, which was a nice moment of relief from all the misery and so on.

      • Jarv says :

        It is a moment of relief, but by the same score, it’s completely unintentional. That’s why I think it’s bad. There should have been other ways to inject levity into a bleak as fuck film.

  2. Droid says :

    I haven’t seen this since I first acquired it, back before it was even in UK cinemas. I’ve been meaning to watch it again. I loved it, but I don’t remember the CGI cats. Thats as good a reason as any to check it out again.

    • Jarv says :

      It’s definitely worth a rewatch- it just didn’t stomp on my nuts quite as hard this time round.

      CGI Cats= lameness.

      • Droid says :

        When did the CGI cats make an appearance?

        The main reason I haven’t watched it again is that it’s so bleak.

      • Jarv says :

        Roughly two thirds of the way through. They aren’t the only ropy bit of CGI- when Eli drops down is pretty bad as well. In fact, I’m wondering if this isn’t a film that would massively benefit from No CGI whatsoever.

      • Droid says :

        What are the cats doing? Are they the ones that gather around the old bloke after he tops himself?

        I’m gonna order the bluray so I can watch it again I think.

      • Jarv says :

        They’re in the flat and they go haywire when the woman comes in.

      • Jarv says :

        I know you can’t see this at work, but nevertheless:

        It’s fucking TERRIBLE. The cat on the top of the bookcase is embarrassingly bad.

      • Frank Marmoset says :

        He he. Those cats hate vampires with a furious vengeance. We can all sleep safe at night knowing our local cats are protecting us from the vampire menace as well as spiders and mice.

        Instead of doing a simple remake, Hollywood should really have done a vampire-hunting cat spin-off. I would suggest they team up with Blade, but I’m not sure where cats stand on the whole Daywalker issue, or how concerned they are about motherfuckers always trying to ice skate uphill.

      • Jarv says :

        I’m sure there’s a film about Vampires where the Cat saves the day and kills them all- I think it’s a King adaptation.

        It would be awesome, though.

        I would also imagine that Cats would be deeply against muthafuckas trying to ice skate up hill. I can’t see them being for it.

      • Echo the Bunnyman says :

        Stephen King likes that avenger cat motif. The movie you are thinking of was Sleepwalkers, with shapeshifters who were incidentally very cat-like, eating the lifeforce of virgins. Cats were their mortal enemies and eventually surrounded them in the house. It’s kind of a bad movie, but to be honest, I remember enjoying it.

        Also, there was cat vs. life-stealing monster in Cat’s Eye, which I think I wrote up here for this site. it was cat vs. troll in that one.

      • Jarv says :

        Sleepwalkers. That was it.

        Thanks.

  3. just pillow talk says :

    I actually forgot about the CGI cats because they didn’t impact my enjoyment of the film one bit.

    Now where I think you are absolutely right is the flashing of mutilated genitals. The atmosphere the movie generated did not warrant a shocking scene like that one. The sadness that permeates every scene is what makes this movie, along with of course the outstanding performances.

    That last scene is perfect though.

    • Jarv says :

      First time round, the Cats didn’t bother me particularly. This time it did- and they are shit.

      It’s not a film that stands up to multiple rewatchings- it was 2 years between them (close enough) for me, and if I were to watch it again soon, it really wouldn’t have the same impact.

      Basically, it’s a really, really good film- but not as good as I remembered it being- I made it number 2 in Europe, and that was WAY too high.

  4. DocPazuzu says :

    I think this movie is excellent. I’m usually merciless when it comes to Swedish horror films (the latest, Psalm 21, being the latest pig dick broken off in the ass of cinema) but I thought this one was exceptional.

    Yes the cats are terrible, but to the filmmakers’ defense, there’s nothing even approaching ILM or Weta in Scandinavia. It’s not as bad as Asylum’s SFX but yes, awful.

    The book is fantastic. In it, Håkan doesn’t die at the hospital. Eli sucks his blood but is interrupted before she can break his neck and kill him for good. As a result, he escapes into the night as a melty-faced, undead peadophile with a constant boner. It sounds funny, but a kid gets locked into a basement with him in total darkness for a whole night with nothing but a small brass trophy as a club to defend himself with. The next morning, Håkan is still trying to get the kid despite having been basically reduced to pulp-on-legs with an erection, while the kid has been driven mad. Considering how bad the cats were, perhaps it was wise to not attempt bringing that scene to life.

    The mutilated genitals are explained in a flashback to the 1700s where Eli (then a boy called Elias) was abducted by a vampire and gelded before being transformed. It’s the most excruciating scene in the whole book as you can imagine.

    • Jarv says :

      Yeah, you are very harsh on Swedish horror as I remember.

      I know why the mutilated genitals thing is in it, but I honestly don’t think it adds anything to the film- and it’s clearly only a matter of time before some soulless bastard does LTROI: Origins with that scene in it.

      • Jarv says :

        he escapes into the night as a melty-faced, undead peadophile with a constant boner.

        Also known as Devin Faraci.

      • DocPazuzu says :

        Mineral water, meet keyboard. Thanks, Jarv.

      • Jarv says :

        Hehehehehehe.

        It was begging for it.

      • Jarv says :

        Doc, I’ve always wondered- how come you ended up in Sweden?

      • DocPazuzu says :

        Incidentally, you’re right about the mutilated genitals shot adding nothing to the film. I have a personal theory as to why it was included at all. These days, “gender awareness” is at a rabid high in Sweden. Anybody who has anything to say — anything — in society or culture bends over backwards to demonstrate their level of “gender awareness”. This means either claiming to be bisexual (since “everyone is, more or less”) or viewing everything through a gender-neutral lens, while at the same time bashing the “hetero norm” which is designed to “oppress women” and those of “alternate life styles and sexual choices”. I’ve actually seen movie critics on TV giving movies bad reviews with the reason being that the film would have been more interesting if it had been directed by “a gender conscious woman” rather than a man. Anyhoo, John Ajvide Lindqvist, who wrote LTROI, is someone I admire a great deal but he, like everyone else in the cultural sphere of Sweden, was afraid to be at the receiving end of the gender police’s wrath, and added the blurry gender identity to Eli to score cheap points with them.

        It doesn’t matter if you have no problem with whatever lifestyles people have or their sexual preferences (which I don’t, I might add) — if you’re a married, straight guy, you’re considered the enemy and part of the repressive societal machine. It’s patently absurd and borderline fascistoid, but that’s what the climate is like right now.

      • Jarv says :

        It’s not just Sweden.

        We’ve got the Census doing the rounds at the moment, and there has been countless articles in the Guardian complaining about it because there isn’t an option for “Transgender” whatever the fuck that is.

        Ridiculous. Suppose it’s my fault for reading The Guardian. I do also read the Telegraph, so I’m not completely subverted into TORIES=BAAAAAAAD, Fat lesbo= picked on by phallic patriarchy.

        Personally, I couldn’t give a monkeys, and that explanation sounds horribly plausible to me.

      • DocPazuzu says :

        Get this: the chairman (oooh, patriarchy!) of the Swedish Homo/Bi/Trans youth council considers herself — and I shit you not — a “homosexual male in a female body”, which begs the question: isn’t that basically the same as being a straight female?

        I mean, WTF?

      • Jarv says :

        Some people are so stupid.

        That’s flaming ridiculous

      • Continentalop says :

        Doc, I think that means she likes anal sex, wearing tight pants & show tunes, but I could be wrong.

    • Frank Marmoset says :

      I think I’m going to pick up that book, give it a go. I thoroughly enjoyed both film versions, so chances are high I’ll also like the book, especially when you consider the increased boner quotient Dr P mentioned.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Frank,

        The book is very well done but in many ways it is vastly different then both movies but it’s well worth the time to read it in my opinion.

  5. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    excellent review Jarv. And actually glad to see it with your re-assessment. I felt like I was mad back in October complaining about that genital shot and the cgi cats. Having watched it right before I saw LMI, it’s the reason I was rather taken with remake (not to open that can again). But there’s the truth of it. It’s a good–very good movie– that added something different and poignant to the vampire genre.

    Jarv, you see Norwegian Wood yet? Im hopingh to get my review up sometime over the weekend.

  6. Xiphos0311 says :

    Good review Jarv. The only other thing I would add is that they sort of clung to close to the book in my opinion and used whole chunks of dialogue, which I have found lately to be annoying since spoken word have a different sort of flow to them.

    Now theoretically if someone where to do another coughcoughversioncoughcouch someday it would behoove them to move the focus a bit more towards the kids and cut out the Lacke and Virginia characters and instead make Lacke “The Cop” which I think tightens the story. Virgina becomes a semi-composite character/neighbor the super girly looking Australian kid peeps on through his telescope. Plus she get’s them out and she played a demon on Supernatural with is cool.

    I was a bit disappointed in the Viking version because there was a complete lack of the Swedish Chef, come on, he’s the most recognizable Swede in the world. LTROI also reinforces my belief that the Swedes think IKEA is shit and export it as a joke. I didn’t see one shitty pressed particle board matchstick quality furniture anywhere in the movie.

  7. toadkillerdog says :

    Im fixin to get heretical up in triple heretical in fact. Never saw lroi
    Because of the hype. Saw children of men after the hype. Bored the piss out of me. Saw brotherhood of thr wolf directors cut. I fell asleep. Even the great belluci could not save it for me. She didn’t get them out either. Or i was sleeping at time. So i have yet to see this flick or remake. Ill wait until it comes on cable and catches me off guard.

    • koutchboom says :

      Yeah you were sleeping for Brotherhood. They were in there.

    • toadkillerdog says :

      Ill have to put it on fast fwd and find yhem

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      TKD,

      This is one of the few times the hype is almost warrented and the anti-hype for the American version is dead wrong. BOTH versions are very good.

      • toadkillerdog says :

        My wife is Swedish by way of Minnesota so maybe ill get the flick as a surprise for her but im still wary

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      BTW I agree with you about CoM and BotW. CoM was 5 pounds of shit in a 3 pound bag and that includes the “balls to the wall” opening scene. I might I have like Wolf a little more then you but it didn’t part my hair the first time I saw it and it became even less liked the second time.

  8. Continentalop says :

    Great review Jarv. There is actually much in your review that I disagree about, concerning characters motives and such, but for me that is what makes LTROI such a great movie, and superior to the remake.

    LTROI is a movie that requires content analysis and deeper textual reading than most movies, and is open to interpretation. Nothing is spelled out. Does Eli love Oskar? There is no clear answer, so both opinions are valid and there is strong evidence to support both viewpoints.

    It is a movie that people can debate and discuss about over beer, coffee or good bud, and find new meanings in each viewing. It is like Raging Bull or Videodrome in that regards in my opinion. A teacher was said that a bad director or film doesn’t make you think; a good film or director makes you think and feel what they want you to; but a great one makes you feel and think what you want about the piece. That is why this is a great movie and, yes, superior to the remake.

    • Xiphos0311 says :

      Jeez somebody took an extra dose foreignnfilmgeekophilebile(TM Xiphos Inc) today. BOTH movies do exactly what you’re talking about.

      • Continentalop says :

        I disagree. There is much less ambiguity in LMI than there is in LTROI. The American movie is very much more concerned with being an entertaining horror movie than a thought-provoking character study. Just compare the lighting and cinematography, where LMI is so dark and forboding looking so you would never mistake it for anything but a horror movie.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        I’m calling BS on that both movies had a dark and depressing lighting and cinematography. You’re implying that LMI is bright and shiny like Speed Racer and that’s not accurate.

        Also I would argue just the opposite about the ambiguity.

      • Continentalop says :

        Actually the opposite. LTROI used a technique called “spray lighting” which gave a diffused look and lack of contrast, compared to LMI. LMI was the darker, but prettier, film.

      • koutchboom says :

        how do the scores compare? I thought LMI’s was maybe Geeaconos best. Also again with the shots of the mothers face in the Sweedish version.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        OK Conti I’ll take your word on the spray and pray technique. The only real difference I noticed is Sweden and New Mexico have different terrain and vegetation, after that, both flicks look about the same to me cinematography and lighting wise.

  9. koutchboom says :

    Also did you notice watching it do they ever show Oskar’s mom’s face?

  10. toadkillerdog says :

    Whore house. Got it. Thanks

    • Tom_Bando says :

      Oh that one’s great. No doubting here.

      Leo Gordon made a pretty danged good villain too don’t forget him.

  11. toadkillerdog says :

    Conti. Saw emperor of north start to finish for first time. Borgnine most menacing screen heavy ever in my opinion when that performance is included with from here to eternity

    • Continentalop says :

      I love that movie. Borgnine was always great as a heavy, like Bad Day at Black Rock, but Shack might be his meanest character ever.

      • toadkillerdog says :

        Im really hard pressed to find anyone else in his class of villain. Widmark and ryan ans marvin are close but Damn. Ernie has the size and range. Who else could do marty mchales and emperor. And be so convincing

      • Continentalop says :

        Raymond Burr, maybe. He might be the greatest noir heavy ever, so you have to put him in the race.

  12. koutchboom says :

    Well I got your 2011 movie for this category all lined up, its called INSIDIOUS.

  13. Droid says :

    Went to the pub last night. Watched nothing. The only thing of interest to report is the story that Time Bandits is getting remade as a “potential kids action franchise”. I’ve somehow managed to never see Time Bandits (to my knowledge). I’ll have to rectifty that one.

  14. ThereWolf says :

    Saw LTROI at the Cornerhouse in Manchester, a specialist cinema that picks up mainly foreign and ‘cult’ films. It’s not all that big but it was still only about a quarter full.

    Fantastic film. I’ve got it on blu-ray and it’s all about the atmosphere of the thing – the cold pours out of the screen at you, and not just coz of the setting either. The downside is the cats look sharper and therefore shitter.

    The ending destroyed me. Coming out of the theatre there were some who felt it was an uplifting coda and everyone lived happily ever after. I didn’t get that at all… but I accept you can read it any way you want.

    Top review, Jarv.

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