Tragic, hopeful, chilling and beautiful, Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is one of the most fully realized films of 2008. It is at turns terrifying, mesmerizing, and heart-wrenching, and it transcends any preconceived notions about what a vampire film or a horror film ought to look like.
Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In tells the story of 12-year-old Oskar, a deathly pale and cripplingly lonely boy who has learned to submit to the wills of those who are stronger and meaner around him.
Inside him burns a rage that longs for revenge against the bullies that torment him, and as he unleashes his pent-up violence against a tree, he meets Eli, a somber girl who doesn’t seem to be the slightest bit bothered by the frigid Swedish winter.
Of course, Eli is not a 12-year-old girl, but a vampire forever frozen in time. She is supplied with blood by Håkan, the middle-aged man she lives with, but when he is no longer able to kill for her, she has to venture out and kill for herself, lest she die.
Eli’s killing spree is undeniably haunting, both because she looks like a young girl and because that girl is seemingly so gentle. The film itself strikes a compelling balance between rage and tenderness, both essential qualities of the two main characters.
The love that blossoms between Oskar and Eli is imbued with tragedy from the very beginning. She tells him that he has to promise not to become friends with her the very first time they meet, but we instantly recognize the impossibility of this demand, and of the love sure to follow.
But both love each other the best they can, and despite the horrific decisions they have to make to stay alive, Let the Right One In feels much more driven by love than hate.
As the film comes to a close, shaking off the sadness inherent in Oskar and Eli’s relationship is difficult, but the ending is immensely satisfying, pitting all of our conflicting emotions against one another. The conclusion is both tragic and joyful, depending on your perspective, and by the time the credits roll, it’s a film that has rooted itself deeply within you.
The Blu-ray Disc
Let the Right One In is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Simply put, the film looks gorgeous. The interplay between the pitch black of night and the purity of the untracked snow is Alfredson’s most common visual motif throughout the film, and the high level of contrast looks incredible here.
The black night sky is impenetrably dark, as are all the black levels. The sparse look of the film and the muted color palette may not provide many opportunities for flashy color, but it makes the occasional bursts of color all the more vibrant. Picture clarity and sharpness is strong, and grain is virtually nonexistent.
The audio is presented in Dolby 5.1 DTS-HD, and features a mix that is a little on the loud side, although nothing too distracting. Moments that feature silence with minimal ambient sound are often the film’s most impacting, and the audio clarity with these scenes is superb.
Annoyingly, the audio options are set to default to the English-dubbed track. Take the time to go to the menu and select the original Swedish with subtitles – rarely does the dubbed version do the original justice, in my opinion.
The extras are minimal, but I’m okay with that, as the haunting sense of mystery surrounding the film seems like it would only be disrupted by learning too much external information.
There are four deleted scenes at around eight minutes altogether, a short behind-the-scenes featurette that mostly focuses on the film’s penultimate scene – a brilliantly conceived and shot encounter in a swimming pool – a photo gallery with stills from the film, and a poster gallery.
The Bottom Line
Make sure to see Let the Right One In before the announced American remake hits theaters in 2010 – if history is any indicator, there’s not much doubt as to which will be the better film.
The Blu-ray release is an excellent way to experience this gem, which definitely finds its way onto my list of top-five films from 2008