It’s hard to discuss a vampire movie today without at least acknowledging the fact that we reached vampire saturation point many years ago, or the fact that in the past 10-15 years several filmmakers have gone to great lengths to distinguish their particular take on the legend from the pack, relying less on the old castle-dwelling Dracula/Nosferatu staple and instead placing the subject within completely different genres; look at the differences between Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Taika Waititi’s What We Do In The Shadows, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive and Stephen Norrington’s Blade, for example, or even go back to 1987, when Kathryn Bigelow and Joel Schumacher explored the idea of a vampire families in very different ways with Near Dark and The Lost Boys, one looking to the western for inspiration, the other broad 1980s Corey-com. As enjoyable as all of those examples are, arguably none of them have tackled the subject with as much grace as Tomas Alfredson, whose 2008 Swedish romantic horror Let The Right One In has a cold, icy setting but a surprising amount of warmth elsewhere, with an touching, emotionally-heightened story.
It’s an adaptation by John Ajvide Lindqvist of his own book, and it concentrates on one small community within the Stockholm suburbs, where 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) fantasises about revenge on the classmates who routinely bully him. Oskar develops a relationship with neighbourhood newcomer Eli (Lina Leandersson), an androgynous figure who suddenly and mysteriously appears at night. Of course it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to guess what is going to happen next, but the film balances its sudden, gory acts of retribution with an extremely well-played central relationship, exploring the desperation of its two main characters slowly and methodically while also spending plenty of time on their coy attraction. It also looks superb; it helps if you employ a cinematographer like Hoyte van Hoytema, who made his name internationally with this film and whose deep focus shots of the suburbs and its uninspiring blocks of flats and municipal buildings are every bit as beautiful as his shallow-depth-of-field close-ups, which enhance the sense of the vulnerability shared by the two main characters. (****½)