Review: “Let The Right One In”

Posted on Sun 05 April 2009 in Dispatches • 5 min read

Let The Right One In is a novel from Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist, and also now a film from Swedish director Tomas Alfredsson. I’ve consumed both now, and while they each should be judged on their own merits I’m going to attempt to review both the novel and the movie in one post. I’ll be pulling some of this from my review of the book on my GoodReads account.

The Novel

I was extremely impressed with this book. It’s a dark and disturbing tale that is beautifully written. The characters are complex, and the novel manages to capture the essence of human loneliness more effectively than any other book I’ve read in the last few years. Lindqvist grants none of his characters an easy path, and takes the time to depict each of their hopes and pains. Nor does he flinch at showing their evils, whether it’s careless alcoholism, the savage cruelty of children, or the darkness of Eli, as well as Eli’s servant.

Even Oskar, the innocent young protagonist, who has suffered so much abuse from his cruel classmates, has withdrawn from the world, and has turned dark from the years of bullying. Over that time he has nursed a hatred so pure and violent in intent that it could only come from a child. He practices stabbing trees with his knife and daydreams about killing his young tormentors. Good does come into his life though, in the form of a new friend. Eli, a pale waif of a child moves into his complex and slowly begins to befriend him, but Eli only comes out at night, and has been 12 years old for a very long time.

I’m hesitant to even mention the word vampire here, because of all the literary baggage it comes with, especially in a post Anne Rice, post Laurell K. Hamilton world, where Twilight and True Blood are what people immediately think of when the v-word comes into the conversation. So let me make something clear, this is not a vampire novel, or at least it is not just that. It’s a deeply moving story of human loneliness and the darkness that grows from the desperation of any outcast, and therefore a very human story, although many may find the humanity depicted in this novel disturbing. It’s beautifully written though, and your heart aches for the people of this tale, even some of the ones that are unquestionably evil.

The only complaint I have about the book is that it seems like the cast of characters is almost too well defined, and in some cases more for completeness rather than serving the story. For example, there is a decent amount of time spent learning about Tommy and his family, when he really has very little impact on the rest of the story and only actually interacts with the central characters briefly on a handful of occasions. It’s well-written, and great character stuff, but seems like an unnecessary detour from the core of the tale.

The Movie

The film version of Let The Right One In is as beautiful as the novel, and while it is somewhat more circumspect in scope, being more focused on Oskar and Eli rather than the wide cast of characters in from the book, it still manages to successfully communicate the emotional core of the story.

The two young actors playing Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Eli (Lina Leandersson), each give stellar performances of difficult material far beyond their years. Hedebrant portrays Oskar’s hatred and desperation with a wide-eyed innocence that is absolutely pitch-perfect. Leandersson’s Eli is also well done, maintaining the appropriate level of awkward childishness and quiet severity that draws Oskar to her. At times though, Eli seems almost too human, and I’m not sure if it’s Leandersson’s portrayal, or Alfredsson’s direction. One important thing in the book is that Eli is never completely human, but instead always has a sense of otherness about about her, which does not hold completely true in the film. It still works though, after all this is no more a “vampire movie” than the novel is a “vampire book”, and this is ultimately a very human story, even Eli’s part of it.

The cinematography of the film is perfect and captures the bleak and lonely winter the story takes place in very well. I can’t speak to how well it captured Sweden in the mid-eighties, but the environment and colors reflect the isolation of Oskar, as well as Eli, whom he first meets out in the frozen playground of his apartment complex as he sits alone in the cold.

Alfredsson has made excellent editorial decisions in bringing this story to screen and has cut some elements of the plot which would have been distracting from the core relationships of the characters. His tight focus and clear understanding of the story he wanted to tell has created something truly great in cinema. It is no wonder the film has won such international acclaim. It’s a splendid piece of art, and after viewing, it is hard not to be profoundly affected by it.

Unfortunately, the DVD distributer of the film used a different set of English subtitles than what was seen in theaters. Supposedly, the original English subtitles are far superior, and outcry has been so loud that the distributer will start pressing the future versions of the DVD with the theatrical subtitles as an additional option, but only as they replace stock, so it could take a while before you see those pressings showing up in stores. Honestly, I saw it on disc, and I still thought it was great, but purists may want to hold off purchasing until theatrical subtitles are available as well. Even if you want to wait on purchasing, you should still consider renting it, because it is excellent, and trust me, you want to see this before an American studio remakes it and mutilates it in the process.

Conclusion

Let The Right One In is profound exploration into human loneliness and savagery, without falling into the trap of becoming a meditation on the nature of evil, which would have been pretentious as well as missing the point. Although it is significant that in both the book and the movie, the characters that are closest to being actually evil are the children that Oskar goes to school with, while Oskar’s salvation and hope comes in the form of a monster that wants to be his friend. It sounds simple and ridiculous simplifying it like that for the purposes of this review, because it plays far out more subtly in the book and movie. Neither make simple choices, and every moment of the story is filled with complex emotions.

Both the book and the movie are well worth your time, and I don’t feel I have to caution you as to the order you approach them in. I discovered the book through watching the movie first, and I don’t feel like it spoiled either for me. They are both excellent, and I highly recommend you check them out.

Final Verdict: The Ministry of Intrigue approves both this book and movie.