I thought I’d write about a Swedish vampire movie since there’s this huge smear campaign about vampires going on, and I think this movie really has a unique angle to the contemporary vampire story. Now, you should know that by contemporary vampire story I do mean the kind where a vampire reaches out to a human and feels remorse. So if the mere idea of such a movie makes you projectile vomit, I suggest you stop reading here. If you have an ounce of intrigue left for this type of story, I think Let the Right One In is worth a try. I promise you this: there are no sparkly vampires and no lustful romance, just a friendship (albeit a somewhat confused one) between two prepubescent kids who are having a hard time. So let’s take a closer look.
The movie tells the story of twelve-year-old Oscar who gets bullied at school and who randomly meets a vampire, Eli. This vampire is seemingly a twelve-year-old girl. Together they fight their personal demons, if you’ll pardon the “pun”, and along the way some people get hurt. This vampire story has been brought into a suburb full of apartment buildings, the playground of one being the place where the two kids meet.
The movie is shot in a very Nordic fashion. It’s unceremonious, honest, very down-to-earth. I enjoyed this rough take on a fantasy story; it looks just like a Finnish/Swedish/Danish drama movie, and feels like one as well. This being the case, I’m hesitant about calling it horror, but since it’s a vampire story and since I found reviews online that call it “gory” and “fantasy horror” I justified writing about it here to myself. What I also found in online reviews were comments about how the characters behave in irrational ways. This really baffled me, since I thought they all behaved very normally indeed; awkwardly, calmly and in ways a normal person would be expected to behave in weird and even horrible circumstances. Maybe this seemingly illogical behaviour has something to do with the way we Nordic people behave (especially in our movies), and maybe it strikes some people from other countries as irrational. If that’s the case, I’m greatly amused, and immensely proud of how weird we can actually seem from the outside.
Regardless of the realistic and grounded portrayal of the story, I found an element of quite acute horror there. There’s something brutally honest about the shabby and unceremonious style of the movie. The image of a man dragging a bloody corpse around in a red child’s sled is something that struck me, and made me inwardly yell: “Ouch, right in the childhood!” Another image of a boy hanging from a coat rack in the school gym changing rooms while a man is attempting to run his blood into a glass jar chilled me, since I spent many years coming and going from exactly those kinds of rooms. What makes the horror tangible is the subdued acting of the wonderful Swedish cast: Oscar depicts the awkwardness only a Nordic person can achieve while hugging his vampire friend, and his relentlessly runny nose outside in the winter cold illustrates the sincerity of the story. Also, I’m a big fan of not overusing darkness as an effect that makes things look scarier. In this film, it’s only dark when it’s supposed to be dark. None of that CSI type “Hey, I always read, write and do all my research in a pitch-black room” nonsense; if something sinister is happening and it would logically happen in well-lit circumstances, it does. Nothing wrong with that. When things feel this real, it’s easy to believe in vampires.
The most prominent atmosphere in the movie is melancholia, just as in Sauna, which I wrote about earlier in this blog. This is not something I expected from a Swedish movie, since the Swedes are an all-around happier and funnier people than we Finns are, but they really mastered Nordic melancholia in this film. Familiar scenes of vampiric horror have been transformed into scenes of sadness: a vampire climbing a wall is no longer the disgusting reptilian image Jonathan Harker witnessed from his imprisonment in Dracula’s castle, but a little girl climbing a hospital wall to see her severely injured father figure. The one who is enchanted by the vampire is no longer a seduced lover but a man who feels self-sacrificing fatherly love towards the little monster. The horror of the movie stems from the feeling of being in a terrible and irreversible situation and making mistakes while trying to cope with it. Quite psychological again, I know – I guess I’m a sucker for the more psychological horror. I’ll try to pick something less psychological next time, but I’m not making any promises!
I think I’ve used the word “Nordic” about a million times in this post. That’s because this movie is first and foremost Nordic; it’s somber, it’s down-to-earth, it’s melancholic and it’s very realistic. These things normally bore me to no end, and they did a couple of times while watching Let the Right One In as well, but the way this vampire story is told is something unique and special and definitely worth a watch. But only if, as I already mentioned earlier, you have any patience left for the contemporary vampire story 😉
“Do you live here?”
“Yeah, I live right here, in the jungle gym.”
– Oscar and Eli –