OK, the truth is out: Ingmar Bergman is alive and undead and still in Sweden where he now makes low-budget vampire films.
Naw, not really, but Tomas Alfredson, the director of Låt den rätte komma in / Let the Right One In, sure seems to have a gloomy streak comparable to the late great art house master, for his film version of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel – Lindqvist also wrote the screenplay – is as morose and grim as any of Bergman's B&W contemplations on daily misery. Really, going by the Swedish films I’ve seen to date – including this one – the question that comes to my mind is not why some Swedes commit suicide, but why they don't all do so.
Let the Right One In is in all intents and purposes a vampire film, but what a unique one it is. No sexy vampires here, no superhuman undead killing machines, no hot babes with heaving bodices, no philosophical contemplations on the nature of man and beast, death and killing. No, instead, amidst the icy, cold, depressing and alienating suburban landscape of Blackeberg, Sweden, a location populated by middle-aged alcoholics, sadistic kids, and uninterested parents and teachers, a grim and death-filled tale unfolds of two lonely "kids" that first develop a friendship with and then a consensual need for each other.
Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), who lives with his divorced mom in a bleak suburban circa 1982, is terrorized at school by a trio of future juvenile delinquents. One night as he takes his frustrations out by stabbing a tree – "Squeal like a pig. So, Squeal." – he is suddenly confronted by his new neighbor, a dark-haired and underdressed girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) who smells as if she has less than good grooming habits. She can stand no sun or food, and more than once maintains that she is not a girl, but slowly a deep friendship develops between the two – a friendship deep enough that Oskar can deal with the eventual realization that Eli is a vampire as easily as one might accept the fact that someone is left-handed or dyslexic.
Eli lives with Håkan (Per Ragnar), a man who could be her father, her lover, her Renfield or any combination thereof, who goes out at night killing people and draining them of their blood to feed his charge. (In truth, however, both times he goes out hunting in the film he is so incredible incompetent one can only wonder how he ever managed to keep Eli regularly fed.) His untimely end forces Eli to go hunting on her own, which results in the tragedy of Virginia (Ika Nord), who meets an end similar to that met by Emmanuel (Don Rickles) in Innocent Blood (1992 / trailer) but not played for laughs. Eli helps Oskar learn to defend himself, but instead of ending the torture it sets a series of events into motion that could easily mean his death... but what are friends for if not to help each other in times of need?
Let the Right One In is probably one of the most unspectacular vampire films ever made, and therein lies much of it strength. The story develops slowly and grimly, with but occasional unspectacular flashes of violence or blood, but the very lack of spectacle makes the horror of the events all the more uncomfortable. Eli may be undead, but most of those who are alive seem to be emotionally dead or crippled, and the harm that they do onto each other – emotionally and physical – can hardly be called living or humane. But even as the friendship blossoms between Eli and Oskar, as they learn that they both need and want each other's friendship, the viewer is left with an uncomfortable and queasy feeling that what to come after the film has ended can hardly be better than the horrors just witnessed.
As is the case with so many "foreign" films, Let the Right One In has entered remake hell: director Matt Reeves, the man who directed Cloverfield (2008 / trailer), will be releasing his Americanized version in 2010. Somehow it seems doubtful he'll manage a film half as disquieting as the original.