This October, we’re celebrating some of the best horror films ever made. Look out for a new classic review daily across the month on The Film Blog, as well as more special treats along the way!
For day twenty-three, the ‘right one’ is the Swedish original.
There is a strong argument to be made that the very best horror films are those which subversively reject the label enclosure of genre for something more fluid. If this is to be believed, then Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In must rank among the greatest horrors of all time. Vampiric by technicality, the film is best described as a romantic, coming of age Nordic noir; albeit, one set within the world of Stoker and Shelley.
Set in Stockholm, 1982, the film explores the conceit that vampires – here defined as those who live on blood – are real and could very well be living next door. Such is the state of affairs for bullied blonde boy Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), whose unhappy life is transformed for the better when a guarded man and uncouth girl become his neighbours. Whilst the former, Håkan (Per Ragnar), ineptly murders, strings up and drains the blood of locals, only to be repeatedly caught out, the latter, Eli (Lina Leandersson), befriends Oskar. Or, perhaps, she is grooming him for dinner? The ambiguity is unsettling but we feel we know the truth.
Adapted from the novel of John Ajvide Lindqvist, by the author himself, Let the Right One In puts character first and is all the more affecting for it. The story is shot amid the bleak and unforgiving snowscape of a Swedish winter but never fails to hit warm, empathetic beats. Human lives – both living and undead – are established as the drama’s keystone, whilst gore and violence are quite literally moved to the farthest frame. In a smart move by Alfredson, scenes of aggression and death are captured at a distance, with a focus on suggestion over exploitation.
Far from the sanguinary corners of horror cinema, the film has a surprising elegance to its choreography and musical harmony. Alfredson’s camera glides through tracking shots and hovers over scenes with a birds-eye perspective. Even in darker scenes and stretches, an orchestral score by Johan Söderqvist balances the disquiet with thoughtful rhythmic flows. There is terror here, certainly, and a downbeat approach to lighting, but the film is naturalistic and serves a bitter reminder that the real world can be every bit as sadistic as the surreal. Indeed, the true villain of the tale has not fangs but a school rucksack and sour mouth.
At the film’s heart are the splendid performances by its young leads Hedebrant and Leandersson. As their story unfolds, the pair form a relationship that is both tender and thoroughly investible; yet, akin to Romeo and Juliet, it is damned and bittersweet by equal measure. In the film’s most tender scene, we see Oskar learn that Eli has never celebrated her birthday before, nor received a present, and instantly attempt to gift her his Rubik’s cube. Leandersson’s voice was dubbed for the film by Elif Ceylan, but proffers a particularly cerebral presence in a role that converges old age and youth.
Though white, greys and blacks dominate the film’s cinematography, splashes of red are a near constant – be they in the hat of a passing jogger, a sled or some victim’s blood – symbolising the love that can be still born in the coldest environments. The film’s title refers to the mythos that a vampire may only enter a house on invitation; here, Oskar opens not just his door to Eli but is heart and soul. Horror is rarely this beautiful.