Today, 10 years ago, a Swedish independent coming-of-age horror film came out. Maybe you’ve heard of it: it’s Let the Right One In.
Well, to be honest I picked the 12th of December as the movie’s anniversary since it had its wide American release on this day, in 2008. Also, the snowy and cold look of the film matches the month of December, which made me choose this day over, say, the Swedish release (October 24th, 2008) or the various festivals prior to that.
Due to the great response at festivals, director Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In became an overnight sensation, being nominated for more than 50 awards and winning 73 prices worldwide. Ever since, the movie’s reputation has increased year by year, to the point everyone who’s seen it loves it and obviously considers it a masterpiece. A modern classic, even. It received the remake treatment only two years after, when in 2010 Matt Reeves created an American version of the film (which, on a side note, is actually quite good, although not as powerful and multi-layered as the original), something that’s pretty much unprecedented in cinema.
Obviously, I do adore Let the Right One In as well. Besides one sequence with CGI cats that, today, looks dated and a bit silly, this film is flawless and extremely memorable. It’s definitely among my favourite horror films and I’d give it a solid 9.5/10.
As we all know, Let the Right One In follows the unlikely friendship between Oskar – a 12-year-old kid who’s bullied at school and comes from a difficult environment – and Eli, a 12-year-old vampire who’s been 12 for over hundreds of years and has her own problems to deal with. Set in the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg, in 1982, during the Cold War, the whole picture has a very bleak and depressing atmosphere that very much gives you an idea of how suburban Sweden must have been back then. This tone, enhanced by the powerful lack of music and soundtrack, contrasts with the sad but uplifting relationship between Oskar and Eli, by contrast highlightened with over-dramatic music: the two child actors give both great performances and their on-screen chemistry is simply spotless. The story, which is fascinating and utterly original (before everyone started to rip it off, which we’ll discuss later), has no dull moments nor issues connected to the pacing. Every single scene serves a purpose in either carrying the plot along or developing the characters; the dialogue is so well-written (which maybe depends on the great source material this film is based on) that feels both natural and magically crafted.
However, what makes me love this movie so much – other than the aspects mentioned above – is the attention to details that you pick up on multiple viewings. For instance, how Eli’s eyes play a fundamental role in giving away her inner feelings, very much in contrast with the vampire/girl’s stoic appearance. One of my favourite scenes happens when Eli tastes blood in front of Oskar for the first time: the filmmakers replaced, for a single shot, Line Leandersson (the actress who plays Eli) with an older actress. This is done very much on purpose, as to show Eli’s true self: damaged, older and with a dark side she hates.
Alongside these fantastically placed details, we have the most memorable scenes, which are iconic and jaw-dropping: the climbing of the hospital walls, the attack under the tunnel – shown from afar with outstanding wire-work – the first encounter between the lead characters, the self-combustion in the hospital… all of these sequences are masterfully crafted and benefit from either great score or the complete lack of music. Yet, the cinematography is amazing, both for these specific instances and for the whole film in general.
Nonetheless, Let the Right One In is memorable for another reason. Ever since its release, it basically became canon for coming-of-age horror tales.
Continue reading below and check what movies have been influenced by LTROI
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On one hand, we have a bunch of movies – with various degrees of quality – that ripped it off throughout the last decade. For example, the Irish The Transfiguration (2017), where an African-American teenage vampire falls in love with a white teenage girl, a movie with an interesting message that gets lost because of the obnoxious comparisons with the superior Let the Right One In. Or the Austrian The Dark (2018) that does a much better job at standing on its own, even though it follows the LTROI formula very closely. Or the vastly underrated American horror/drama Byzantium (2012), where Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan try to find their place in a hostile community.
However, the influence of this Swedish classic goes beyond the more obvious rip-offs and, in the last decade, ‘contaminated’ (for lack of better words) a number of horror films.
In this sense, most of the slow-burners that dealt with themes of identity and personal growth, and that involved younger characters, owe something to Let the Right One In. The most recent example, for me, is represented by the wildly praised Hereditary. On one hand, Ari Aster’s debut sensation relies on cold colours and somewhat bleak atmosphere that really seems to wink at the 2008 Swedish film; on the other, and this is a more glaring homage, the self-combustion of one of the characters in Hereditary is basically copy-pasted from the hospital scene in Let the Right One In.
Definitely lesser-known, though perhaps not less impactful than Hereditary, is Chan-wook Park (the director of Old Boy)’s Thirst (2009): here, a priest gets bitten by a vampire and is forced to abandon his holy ways. Although the protagonist is an adult in this Korean film, the themes of identity and bullying – the priest goes through a lot before it’s his turn – are very much present and the whole struggle to find oneself in a hostile world is reminiscent – to say the least – of Let the Right One In.
The idea of bullying and revenge also influenced, among others, two independent and rather recent horror/thriller movies: Super Dark Times, from last year, where a group of teenage ‘losers’ are suddenly shaken by a terrible accident that turns their lives around. Although themes of paranoia and hidden secrets are, perhaps, more poignant here, bullying and striving for acceptance – in the veins of Oskar’s – are also a fundamental aspect of this (super) dark thriller. Yet, the shitty horror movie Found (2012), where a teenage boy discovers his brother is a racist serial killer, deals with similar concepts and has a strong LTROI feel to it.
I could go on and on with examples of movies that, in a way or another, took inspiration from Let the Right One In: from Raw to Summer of ’84 to Wildling to tons of other titles. However, to conclude this little homage from a fan (more than a critic, in this case), I want to focus on two TV series where the influence of the Swedish classic is evident.
Stranger Things and Dark. Stranger Things is obviously inspired by many movies and shows from the 80s, but the character of Eleven (reminiscent of Eli) and her relationship with Mike (bullied like Oskar) to me are clearly influenced by Let the Right One In in many ways. Netflix series Dark, from Germany, also deals with similar themes but mostly reminds of the Swedish masterpiece in terms of setting and social issues. Both these shows are great and I like to think that part of the merit goes to Alfredson’s Let the Right One In.
With this article, my main aim was to pay a little homage to a film I love in its 10th anniversary. I also wanted to demonstrate that, if a picture inspired so many other filmmakers in such a short time (10 years is not a lot in the long history of cinema), it means that picture truly has something special to it. Although I sincerely hope you’ve already seen Let the Right One In, perhaps today is the perfect day to revisit it and be blessed by the grandeur of this modern masterpiece.