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Sweden: Land of Subtitled Vampires

let_the_right_one_in-10 What better time for a film about vampires to come out than when all the kids are on their Easter holidays. “Let The Right One In” opens this Friday, and is certainly a refreshing change to the usual keep-the-kids-amused fare we get into the cinema at this time of year.

This review comes with a warning though: the movie’s is Swedish. That means it was shot in Sweden, that they speak Swedish, and that there’s subtitles. If you’re not prepared to read the subtitles, then I don’t ever want to have to talk to you again. 

On paper, “Let The Right One In” sounds a lot like the recent tween-pleasing “Twilight”: young Oskar (Hedebrant) keeps to himself and has few friends at school, living in an apartment with his mother. When Eli (Leandersson) moves into the building, he becomes enthralled with the young girl, with the eventual revelation that she is a vampire, incapable of escaping her hunger for blood.

Therein ends the similarities, as “Let The Right One In” acknowledges the darkness of its topic in a way “Twilight” never would: at its core a film about vampires, we’re treated to the blood, death and violence you might expect, and although Eli evokes her fair share of pity for viewers and Oskar alike, Leandersson plays a deliciously terrifying character that provides some genuine scares. The film, set in Sweden (and with subtitles) makes use of the environment as much as possible, blood and water (in all its forms, including ice and snow) coming together to create some truly graphic imagery: even the sounds that Eli makes as a vampire are disturbing enough that, for a lot of scenes, we don’t need the accompanying visuals to be absolutely terrified.

Much of the drama of “Let The Right One In” plays out thanks to the acting talents of its young stars: terrifying as Leandersson can be, her talent would go unnoticed were it not for the wide-eyed innocence of Kare Hedebrant as Oskar, embodying the outcast child that we pity (especially when we see him bullied in school), that Eli wants to save, but who may be just as much of a monster as Eli herself.

Alfredson’s direction creates a high level of tension throughout the film, in a way that few others can manage, something that is added to by a sparse soundtrack and infrequent dialogue, alienating the viewers in some ways, but in doing so, also giving us something in common with Oskar. Even at its most bloody, special effects and make-up are at a minimum in the film. And yet, here is where the film’s weaknesses lie: as much as it pulls its audience in dangerously close, some of the effects just don’t work and only serve to break the film’s thrall. Some scenes and characters are equally distracting from the heart of the film, with many left in to be faithful to the novel the film is based on: few of them are properly explained and most provide more questions than they do answers. In a film like this, we’d be much happier to watch Oskar and Eli play all day and night.

“Let The Right One In” doesn’t offer the epic romances of “Twilight” or the slay-fest of “30 Days of Night”: instead, we’ve a slow, thoughtful vampire film that despite its flaws, deserves a place amongst the finest vampire, growing pains, and foreign language movies of this decade.

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  1. morethinking
    April 20, 2009 at 7:17 AM

    The film is definitely a knockout. Easily one of the great Horror films made.

    I thought the effects were actually pretty good, save for one instance (Spoiler)

    The beginning of that scene with the cats attacking a bitten girl, though it got better since the film quickly focuses on the motions of the character, along with some darkness to obscure the critters.

    (Spoiler)

    Other than that, the special effects were effective. This film is in a league of it’s own, for it is an arthouse film, yet it has vampires so it is snubbed, and it is also a horror film, but it is in Swedish and has subtitles so it is confined to a small release in theaters.

    But films like this will make bank on DVD. They always do.

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