A bullied misfit finds his destiny with a mysterious girl vampire in the idiosyncratic romantic horror-fantasy “Let the Right One in.” Calling to mind the work of Anne Rice and Stephen King, atmospheric adaptation of Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s bestseller is well directed by his countryman Tomas Alfredson (“Four Shades of Brown”) and should click with cult and arthouse auds. Although plot centers on two 12-year-old outcasts who become soulmates, it’s definitely not for kids. Project’s distinctive mix of horrific and heartwarming — along with haunting production design — signal a strong Euro market with potential for eternal life in ancillary.
Action unfolds in 1982, in a snowy Stockholm suburb where pale, androgynous-looking Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) lives with his divorced mother in a dreary apartment complex. Brutally bullied at school, he keeps a hunting knife under his bed and secretly fills notebooks with reports of heinous crimes.
Lonely Oskar is drawn to unkempt new neighbor Eli (Lina Leandersson), who materializes only at night, doesn’t feel the cold and gives off a strange odor. Eli lives with Hakan (Per Ragnar), an odd, older man whom the locals assume is her father. Their arrival coincides with a series of gruesome murders.
Matter-of-fact depiction of Hakan’s search for fresh blood for Eli in the early scenes shows the originality of pic’s genre approach. Alfredson allows elegantly composed visuals and a clever soundtrack to convey the horror without music, flashy editing or special effects. Hakan’s ineptitude and bad timing even become a source of black comedy.
Film does boast its share of f/x, but these don’t achieve the same fright factor. In contrast, the evocative school scenes suggest a more everyday terror.
Scripting by Lindqvist tones down some of the novel’s dark undercurrents, with only Hakan’s shifty looks hinting at the book’s pedophilia plot thread. His unique contributions to vampire lore include the fact that they can’t enter a room without being invited, and inspire cats to attack.
Otherworldly child actors Hedebrant and Leandersson perfectly embody their roles. Their opposite looks are used as elements of production design by Eva Noren, who brilliantly contrasts darkness and light. Exquisitely detailed lensing by Dutch-Swedish d.p. Hoyte van Hoytema adds dimensions to the multilayered story while using snow-white and blood-red as leitmotifs.
Pic preemed at Gothenburg fest in late January, where it nabbed the Nordic film award and a prize for cinematography.