A moody adaptation of the Swedish best-seller about a fateful mortal-vampire romance, “Let the Right One In” is atypically literate and unexpectedly affecting suspense fare. Complex characters, ominous situations fraught with mortality and the recklessness of youthful ardor create a tense and subtly shaded narrative.
In a calculated stab at genre-oriented counterprogramming, Magnolia Pictures is slipping the film into art house theaters during the height of fright season in the hopes of gaining awards traction. With a focused, gradual build, “Let the Right One In” could enjoy satiating theatrical returns and a long ancillary afterlife, lending momentum to Hammer Films’ plans for a remake.
In a wintry Stockholm suburb during the 1980s, introverted 12-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) lives with his single mother in a nondescript apartment block. Fascinated by accounts of violent crimes and frequently bullied at school, Oskar has few friends, indulging instead in violent revenge fantasies.
When a girl Oskar’s age moves in next door, he takes an uncharacteristic interest in her, unaware that she’s actually a vampire. Pale and fragile looking, Eli (Lina Leandersson) only emerges from the apartment she shares with her caretaker Hakan (Per Ragnar) at night and appears unaffected by the winter cold. Although they initially bond over a Rubik’s Cube, Eli warns Oskar she’s not like other girls and urges him to fight back against his schoolmate bullies.
Out on the hunt one night, Hakan bungles a murder intended to harvest blood for Eli. The desperately starved girl soon begins attacking unsuspecting passersby in a series of grisly nighttime ambushes. After another miscalculated assault ends with Hakan’s arrest, Eli hesitantly turns to Oskar for succor. Forced to confirm his suspicions about her overpowering bloodlust, a tentative romance unexpectedly blooms between the pair.
But before long, Oskar’s retaliation against his tormentors spawns unanticipated consequences, as does Eli’s bloody attack on a hapless neighbor, putting both their newfound affection and Eli’s safety at risk.
Screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist’s distinctive adaptation of his novel finds its strength in the realistic depiction of Hakan and Eli’s constant search for blood. Director Tomas Alfredson interprets the narrative in a skillfully restrained, atmospheric style that minimizes the supernatural and gorier genre attributes, relying more on subtle camera direction, expressive lighting and ominous sound design to convey escalating dread.
The youthful actors imbue even the most emotional and disturbing scenes with remarkable complexity. Leandersson is particularly impressive as the conflicted young vampire who wants nothing more than to be an ordinary girl again.
The striking technical contributions from cinematography to production design, special effects and editing evocatively reinforce the film’s haunted naturalism.
Cast: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Karin Bergquist, Peter Carlberg, Mikael Rahm, Karl-Robert Lindgren.
Director: Tomas Alfredson.
Screenwriter: John Ajvide Lindqvist.
Producers: John Nordling, Carl Molinder.
Director of photography: Hoyte van Hoytema.
Production designer: Eva Noren.
Costume design: Maria Strid.
Music: Johan Soderqvist.
Editors: Dino Jonsater, Tomas Alfredson.
No rating, 114 minutes.