After helming a reasonably successful adaptation of John le Carré’s, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I expected to see more high-profile projects from Swedish director Tomas Alfredson. It appears his directorial output before and since has remained Scandinavia-based, however. I finally caught up with his acclaimed feature Let the Right One In (2008), and it’s easy to see how this one landed him an iconic period spy drama, even if it’s a distinctly different kind of movie.
Let the Right One In takes place in and around a frigid Swedish apartment complex in winter, where young Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) lives with his divorced mother. Oskar’s a peculiar, solitary child, ruthlessly bullied by cruel classmates and quietly trying to summon the will to resist their abuse. That strength doesn’t arrive until he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a strange new next-door neighbor. For all his misanthropic leanings, Oskar eventually develops a friendship with Eli, which is not at all diminished by his gradual comprehension that Eli is a vampire.
There’s a stately, contemplative streak to Let the Right One In, which is very much in the Scandinavian style, but also interfaces interestingly with the classic horror tropes deployed in the course of explicating the mystery of Eli’s condition. The result is an unusual combination of character study and genre piece, with Oskar and Eli’s sad, desperate search for connection mingling effectively with the unnerving shock tactics of the genre. The placid, pristine Nordic setting makes those terrifying moments all the more impactful, while the film’s sound techniques and frigid exteriors make for an especially visceral experience, forcing the viewer to feel the cold and the uncomfortable physical realities of the situation. But at the core of the story is an unusual, coming-of-age romance with an empathetic focus on the perils of trying to fit into a society’s cruel, unforgiving systems. Overall, it’s a beautiful, unique, and memorable film.