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Movie Review: Let The Right One In at the Glasgow Film Festival 2009

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Let The Right One In could technically be classified as a vampire movie if it had to be forced into a neat category. However the film is very determined not to allow that simple label to be slapped on it as it is more preoccupied with presenting a touching coming-of-age story that's both relatable and believable. There just happens to be some vampires in there on occasion.

Let The Right One In tells the story of 12-year-old Oskar, a lonely and troubled young boy who gets bullied at school and only has himself for company most of the time. However when a young girl, Eli, moves in next door he starts to form a relationship with her, he being more enamoured with her than she is with him. However he notices that Eli isn't quite normal, not least because she doesn't come out during the day, she doesn't eat food and can't come into someone else's house without being invited. Before long Oskar notices that Eli needs human blood to survive and must choose whether or not to accept what she is because of his love for her.

The only way Let The Right One In has any chance of becoming any sort of success commercially is for the studio to market it as what it at first appears to be — a vampire movie. Horror movies in general tend to sell well whether they're any good or not. And anyone who may become tricked by the advertising which accentuates the horror aspect and plays down any others (also quite cleverly hiding the fact that it's in Swedish and subtitled) may feel a bit let down when they find out the horror isn't what's put in the spotlight. However that rightly shouldn't matter when we what we get instead is so good — a touching, emotional, heartfelt drama about growing up and falling in love.

Oskar is an extremely likable, even lovable, leading character, a boy just about to enter his teen years. Undoubtedly an extremely awkward stage of life, the things we see Oskar going through at the beginning and throughout the movie are relatable and realistic. We are given the chance to see ourselves as we once were at that age as he gets bothered at school by other boys, not always feeling like you have all the friends in the world and generally feeling like you don't know just what the hell you're doing. That's one of the things which sets Let The Right One In apart from similar films — it takes the time to showcase the dramatic things as well as the mystical, Gothic vampire elements.

Speaking of which, although the movie certainly keeps them on the sidelines compared to other things, there is still a fair deal of the vampire elements we've seen through years of horror cinema present here. It presents a lot of what we've come to know about the mythology: aversion to sunlight, the need for blood, not being able to enter a house without permission, on and on. But it simultaneously respects the mythos of the vampire while putting a fresh slant on it. For instance instead of a vampire's skin simply sizzling and slowly burning away if they come into contact with sunlight, they flat out burst into flames. And also, in one of the creepiest scenes in ages, what happens to a vampire when they enter a house without permission is jaw-dropping to behold. As far as the vampire aspects go the film is both traditional and fresh.

But that's really where all the vampire stuff stops. Beyond the problem of Eli being a vampire and Oskar having to choose whether to look past that in light of his love for her, this is more about the coming-of-age ordeal we all go through and how such things as a first love can seem more important than anything else in your life. Since Eli is a vampire she hasn't really had a chance to live the way someone in their early teens should (presumably – we are told that Eli has been 13 for a long, long time) and more than anything else she sees a chance to experience some of that with Oskar. He is undoubtedly more smitten with her than she is with him but nonetheless this is a touching relationship in that cute and sweet kind of way.

What's noteworthy but not altogether surprising is how positively this is being received by critics and audiences alike (as few as they are — it's clearly not going to be a box office smash). However I don't think the film is as good as a lot of people have made it out to be. It's probably just refreshing amongst a sea of mediocre (and often flat out bad) horror movies as of late that people are falling over themselves so much for this film, but this hyper-praise isn't fully warranted.

So even though Let The Right One In is not be the masterpiece that it's often been labeled, it is still a wicked film that deserves as big an audience as possible – as much as the smash-hit Twilight became, anyway. Touching, moving, endearing, and gorgeously shot with just a hint of some pretty horrific scenes here and there, this is horror cinema at its most refreshingly original.

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