Movie Discussion: Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In [Låt den rätte komma in] (2008)

  • Monthly Theme: VampiresNyLDRKI_POSTER_SWE.indd
  • The Film: Let the Right One In
  • Country of origin: Sweden
  • Swedish title: Låt den rätte komme in
  • Date of Swedish release: October 24, 2008
  • Date of U.S. release: October 24, 2008
  • Studio: Canal +, et al.
  • Distributer: Magnet Releasing (subtitled)
  • Domestic Gross: $2.1 million
  • Budget: $4 million (estimated)
  • Director: Tomas Alfredson
  • Producers: Frida Asp, et al.
  • Screenwriters: John Alvide Lindqvist
  • Adaptation? Yes, of the 2004 novel Låt den rätte komme in by John Alvide Lindqvist.
  • Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema
  • Make-Up/FX: Kalle Schröder, et al.
  • Music: Johan Söderqvist
  • Part of a series? No.
  • Remakes? Yes, 2010’s Let Me In.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? No.
  • Other notables?: No.
  • Awards?: More than 60 different international awards.
  • Tagline: “Eli is 12 years old. She’s been 12 for over 200 years and she just moved in next door.”
  • The Lowdown: The movie follows a nerdy outcast middle-schooler named Oskar who spends his days being harassed by classmates and his nights being shuttled between his divorced, and somewhat emotionally remote, parents. Then Eli, a girl his own age, moves in to his mother’s apartment building – except that Eli isn’t really a girl at all. She’s a vampire. She’s also a he, a boy whose genitalia have been cut off and has been made to dress and act like a girl. Eli and Oskar strike up a friendship based on their own loneliness and alienation. Things get dire as Oskar’s confrontations with a gang of schoolyard bullies grow more violent, and as Eli’s adult human protector is killed, leaving her to fend for herself. The movie was a huge international hit, and played for a long while in art houses and more eclectic mainstream theaters around the U.S. – it was also rapturously reviewed (98% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes). The movie was then remade for American audiences – hoping for a hit with Middle America, I guess? – as Let Me In by Matt Reeves (who made that found footage kaiju movie, Cloverfield).

If you haven’t seen Let the Right One In our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Sean: So I don’t know why, but I had thought that this would be your favorite movie we’ve ever watched, and I was surprised that you weren’t over the moon for it. Why didn’t you lov it?

Kristine: What makes you say that I wasn’t over the moon?

Sean: Well, your immediate reaction was tempered.

Kristine: It’s true. I thought Let the Right One In was really good. But, yes, I wasn’t over the moon for it.

Sean: And I thought you would cry and die and be obsessed with it. You got more excited about Thirst.

Kristine: I fell under Thirst’s mystic Asian spell.

Sean: Can you give me the lowdown on your gut reaction to Let the Right One In?

Kristine: I don’t know, I think it’s very hard to pinpoint the particulars that take you from “liking” something to “loving” it. It’s much easier to nitpick about things you don’t like. But I think one component that Thirst had that Let the Right One In did not was a certain giddiness and slapstick mania that I really respond to. Even though Let the Right One In can be read as a beautiful romance in many ways, it is not a happy movie.

Sean: Right.

Kristine: I really liked that Thirst was able to have moments of real glee amidst the trauma.

Sean: Let the Right One In is kind of miserablist.

Yes I am a creep.

Kristine: It is. And… I don’t like Oskar.

Sean: I was always fascinated that Let the Right One In became so popular and trendy and people were in love with it, especially people who normally don’t like horror were over the moon for it. And I kind of think it was the “dark,” miserable aspects that did that. It made everyone feel all Holden Caulfield. I just want to clarify, I love the movie. But I was still caught off guard by the rapturous mainstream critical embracing of the movie, because it reads like such a cult film to me.

Kristine: I am surprised by that also except that, like Thirst, it’s an exceptionally beautiful movie. It looks great.

Sean: They’re both stunning movies to look at, I agree.

Kristine: In terms of cinematography, sound, and acting, Let the Right One In is top notch.

Sean: I really loved the way the director, Tomas Alfredson, would place his camera. His framings and shots were really painterly.

Kristine: I had scratched down a note when we were watching: a quiet scene that really resonated with me was right after Eli moved in, and both she and Oskar are leaning out their windows and they are perfect aesthetic foils to one another and it is perfectly framed. Love it.

Sean: Yeah, and the scene when Eli feeds on that man in the tunnel, or the jungle gym scenes with Eli and Oskar, are just really strikingly composed and they’re very still and vast. The movie is so chilled and pretty, that I think scenes like the CGI-cat-attack feel very strange. Because that is some campy shit.

Let the Right One In really has a different take than say, True Blood, on the whole “vampires drive pussy wild” thing.

Kristine: It did feel totally out of step, both aesthetically and tonally, from the rest of the movie, but I still loved it.

Sean: I loved it too but it was a weird, weird sequence. And those cats looked kind of fake and cartoonish.

Kristine: Well, don’t you think that scene could have been in Thirst?

Sean:  Yeah, it was Thirst-like in its off-the-chain craziness. Very over the top. And it’s like the only moment that is like that.

Kristine: Oh god, Sean, there is this photographer Sandy Skoglund and the cat attack scene so reminded me of her work. But in terms of over-the-top antics, the swimming pool massacre is also gonzo but in a totally different way.

Sean: That is the best scene in my opinion. The feet dragging in the water?

Kristine: I loved it.

Sean: It is really ingenious.

Kristine: For me, the arm flying into the other end of the pool. I was impressed that I could be so shocked at that scene, when of course I knew Eli would rescue Oskar, but I was still shocked.

Sean: It was just, really effective at implying the mayhem with very little gore.

Kristine: Well. There was some gore.

Clearly Eli’s deeply confused about the concept of a “pool party.”

Sean: This time around I noticed that the boy who sat on the bench and buried his face in his hands is alive at the end of that scene. I never noticed that before.

Kristine: Yes, he is.

Sean: Eli is discriminating.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: So, Eli is amazing, no? I mean, that actress. Her face is amazing and she can be both very convincingly child-like (for instance, the way she lets excited Oskar pull her along by her hand) and also preternatural and weird in an unaffected way. It is great casting. Oskar looks like he smells like pee.

Kristine: Oskar smells like pee and smooshed peas. I loved Eli’s physical transformation between a haggard, hunched over state when she is hungry and then bright-eye-and-bushy-tailed-I-gave-my-hair-a-VO5-hot-oil-treatment look when she is sated.

Sean: And is the actress not a Scandinavian Sara Gilbert?

Kristine: I thought she was Sara G. at first, but then I forgot about that. She is way better than Darlene Conner.

Sean: Well, of course, she’s a murderous monster. I’m sorry, he is a murderous monster. “I am not a girl.” Eli is very pointed about that.

Kristine: Yes, Eli tells Oskar over and over she is not a girl.

Sean: What do you make of the Eli genderfuck?

Movie to audience: “Love is a puzzle.” (P.S. That’s called “symbolism” I’m told)

Kristine: I don’t think it is that important to the story, actually.

Sean: Maybe not to you, straightie.

Kristine: Heh.

Sean: I think it makes the movie. At least for me.

Kristine: Okay, give me your gay read.

Sean: Oh boy, well… I don’t want to get all fagsplosion on you, but it seems like this unrepentant expression of queer empowerment. I mean, we’ve talked before about how horror is all about invoking the queer just in order to destroy/contain it. But Eli is the hero and the movie is a total genderfuck queer explosion.

Kristine: You think it is more significant that Eli is a boy then that he is a vampire?

Sean: Well, and then there’s then the troubling side of it: where the vampire/monster thing is grafted onto the queerness…

Kristine: Right.

Sean: But I think it’s sort of a beautiful metaphor for Eli’s otherness and I also think his power is undeniable and the movie gets major bonus points for that.

Kristine: Absolutely.

Sean: This is the movie that would let Tae-Ju (from Thirst) kill everyone and run off at the end because it does that for Eli. It really is a queer fantasy.

Kristine: I totally agree that Let the Right On In had the ending I wanted for Thirst. But there are times when Eli is struggling against this basic nature, right? I mean, he tells Oskar he is not a girl, but doesn’t say that he is a boy or a vampire until confronted by Oskar. I mean, Eli is conflicted about his own identity.

Sean: Yes certainly. Eli is, literally, closeted and contained.

If I were Oskar, I would also try to hide in a place where my natural “urinal cakes” odor would blend into the environment.

Kristine: Yes. And when he is not contained… bad things happen.

Sean: And Eli has to be “invited in” and I think the politics of “in” and “out” are important to the movie; inner spaces vs. outer spaces. That uterine bathroom bathtub crypt that the guy violates at the end and Eli kills him?

Kristine: I thought the scene when Eli is naked and gets in bed with Oskar and asks if it is “gross” that he is naked was powerful and telling.

Sean: I know. Eli is so moving.

Kristine: It was very My Own Private Idaho.

Sean: Yes. So, fyi, there was a minorcontroversy of people calling the crotch shot in the movie exploitative and bordering on child pornography. But that, to me, is just American prudishness and is to be laughed off.

Kristine: Oh, “people.”

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: Well, like we were saying – I love how Eli and Oskar are aesthetic foils – he is a sickly blonde weak will-‘o-the-wisp and she is dark-complected and animalistic and strong. Can we talk about Håkan?

Sean: He is… a situation. One of my favorite shots in the movie is him suspending that guy from a tree, and that giant poodle sitting there staring. I love that shot.

Kristine: Can I give my read on him?

Sean: Yes please.

Kristine: Okay, 65% of me loved the ending of Eli and Oskar escaping to somewhere together. And I was wondering, will Oskar provide for Eli? Or will Eli turn Oskar into a vampire? And it was fun and romantic. But 35% of me thought… Oskar is the next Håkan. Maybe Håkan was Eli’s same age when they met and then he was turned into Eli’s toadie. And that scared and depressed me.

Sean: Yes, I thought of that too. That Eli runs through these boy-lovers and when they age out, he gets a new one.

Kristine: A Renfield character. Remember the Renfield in 30 Days of Night (played by rotten-toothed Russell from Six Feet Under)? Shudder.

Sean: I actually like that idea because Oskar is a pee-scented creep…

Kristine: Well, true.

You, too, would run from the Abominable Snow Poodle.

Sean: I guess in the book, it is clear that Håkan was a creepy pedophile adult when he met Eli. But then for the American remake, Let Me In, they make it that the Eli-character met him when Håkan was 12, like we’re saying… So many adaptations and versions to keep track of. So, what do you think the movie is ultimately saying about violence? Because Oskar is marked by his homicidal impulses and he is sort of justified in having them because he is tortured. But doesn’t the movie sort of celebrate violence as a solution? It is a very “freaks rise up” movie.

Kristine: Yeah, I don’t think those homicidal impulses are in his nature, they’re just a coping mechanism.

Sean: But Eli begins to seduce Oskar by naming his fantasies and then he hits that bullyboy in the ear and we are supposed to cheer, right?

Kristine: I think it champions standing up for yourself. And that if you are mistreated, you get to react with extreme violence.

Sean: Violence IS the answer, but only if you’re a picked on outcast. Yeah, I love indulging in that fantasy, but it all makes me a bit queasy.

Kristine: I mean, Eli was a victim… I think if you get forcibly castrated, you get to kill a few people.

Sean: But Eli is a predator and I think the movie asks us to judge Eli’s violence. Like how he destroys Virginia and all the people he kills are mostly just nice, dopey locals.

Kristine: I agree, Eli’s victims are mostly blameless. Do you think the backstory of Eli’s castration is included to make us more tolerant of his violence?

Sean: But we’re asked to champion Oskar’s violence and take a lot of pleasure in it. Eli becomes Oskar’s weapon – and that’s the only time his violence is “excused.” Eli is his stick to hit ears with.

Kristine: I think it’s less pleasure in seeing people hurt as it is pleasure in seeing Oskar stop being a soggy blanched pea.

Sean: Oh I took pleasure in the bully being hurt. I wanted to watch him suffer. I wanted Oskar to torture him for hours.

Kristine: That bully was so vile.

Take it from Håkan, Botox can be DANGEROUS. (Actually this is just Marcia Cross without makeup)

Sean: And his older acne brother? But I did think it was significant that the bully’s minions were very, very conflicted.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: And they did not take pleasure in the cruelty. If they had relished the violence, it would have been a stupid cartoon.

Kristine: The boy who lives at the end was the one almost in tears when he was made to whip Oskar with a switch.

Sean: Those boys, I found them very sympathetic. Because the truth is, good people will fall in line with a charismatic sadist and do nothing to stop bad things from happening. And the one who lures Oskar to the pool? He dies and it is kind of sad but kind of yay.

Kristine: Exactly. Well, they might be sympathetic but they still deserve it.

Sean: This is actually making me wonder if the movie doesn’t make Oskar pee-scented porridge on purpose, to complicate our ability to identify with him.

Kristine: I think I felt some empathy for the bullies. I mean, Oskar sucks. And is hideous.

Sean: I thought it was really interesting when we were watching and you commented on Oskar’s parents and I wondered if you could walk me through your reaction to them and to the ending, and what it means for his parents.

Kristine: I want to talk about adults in the film, in general. As in, they are totally inconsequential.

Sean: The adults seem mostly good to benign except for Håkan.

Kristine: Here’s the cast of adults: Håkan – dies. Drunken good natured town folk – die. Gym teacher– can’t stop acts of violence in the school. Parents – lose child to a vampire.

Sean: But I love that gym teacher…

Kristine: Sure, he was a good guy.

Sean: I love how he is supportive of Oskar working out and getting strong. In fact, the scenes of puny little Oskar trying to lift weights are poignant to me.

Yes, Oskar we can still see you. You’re yellow-and-white, but you’re not THAT yellow-and-white!

Kristine: But he was powerless against children’s ways and trickery.

Sean: True. He is oblivious to evil right under his nose, which is sort of unforgivable. But the adults in this world are not very interested in the children.

Kristine: I think Eli being forever in the body of a child is saying something significant about the filmmaker’s view on children and adults, and how much control and power and influence adults really have. Which the film thinks is: not much. And that is scary for society because no one is in charge.

Sean: I actually think the opposite.

Kristine: How so?

Sean: I think the point is that adults have all the power and leave the kids to their own devices and are preoccupied (like Oskar’s father and that weird man) and in the vacuum they create by sucking up all the power, evil blooms or something. Because Oskar is trapped and Eli is trapped. That is their predicament – and it’s the predicament of all children – and it is only in finding each other they can be free. And Oskar’s parents, despite their benign love for him, are actually the forces keeping him stuck in a literal hell of “normalcy” and being terrorized at school. Parents trap children… or something.

Kristine: That could be. Oskar’s mother obviously cares deeply for him but buys his completely lame explanation that he got the deep cut in his face tripping over a rock.

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: And his dad is easily distracted by his maybe-boyfriend and boozing it up at the card table…

Sean: His dad also loves him, but ignores him when his heinous goblin lover comes a-callin’.

Kristine: Well, one thing I liked was after Eli attacks Townsman #1 and Virginia and they keep repeating how it was “a kid, a kid” and it was spooky and terrifying. Much more so than if it was a man who attacked them.

Sean: Yes. See, I can’t quite make what Catwoman and her cronies are doing in the movie, but they’re significant, and their perspective on Eli feels important.

Kristine: I agree but they were also the least interesting part of the movie for me.

Sean: Well, they give us the film’s two most spectacular set-pieces: the cat attack and the burning bed.

Cue that Midnight Oil song, it’s another self-destroying lady-person!

Kristine: Okay. That reminds me, I thought it was very interesting that Virginia, who gets turned to vampire as an adult, has a conscience that leads her to self-immolate when she realizes what she has become. But Eli, who was turned as a child, might have qualms but would never self-destruct to save lives.

Sean: Right. The movie is very fair about depicting children’s self-interest and megalomania. Children are needy creatures.

Kristine: Yep.

Sean: See, you have convinced me that this movie is about the predicament of childhood and it’s all a metaphor for that… and the movie is very adept I think at playing both sides of the equation.

Kristine: I think it is, for sure.

Sean: But don’t you think the movie is not all from the kids’ side or all from the adults, but interpolates?

Kristine: I absolutely agree with that.

Sean: That’s why I feel like when Catwoman’s boyfriend finds Eli’s bath-bed… It is really pivotal to understanding the movie, that scene. It is the first climax to the story and then the pool scene is the second climax.

Kristine: One really good example of that is how Townsman #1 helps Eli, thus making himself vulnerable for to be killed, because he perceived Eli as a child.

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: And remember when Eli is showing Oskar the money and other things that people have given him… He says people help him.

Sean: But here’s where the movie just wants us all to feel bad: kids, you’re monsters, but adults, you’re prison wardens.

Kristine: And, because Eli IS still a child, he does need help even though he is a fearsome murderous vampire. Like, he can’t rent an apartment.

Sean: Yes, he’s still a dependent.

Kristine: Absolutely. How frustrating that would be. To be hundreds of years old and need a daddy to sign a lease. Isn’t that the position of Kirsten Dunst in Interview with Tom Cruise?

If you claim you can tell ANY of these Swedish villagers apart from each other, you lie.

Sean: Good call. Claudia is the proto-Eli. Just want to point out here: Who made Eli? We don’t know. But her lack of an origin story is pretty cool.

Kristine: Is that why there is all the ovarian imagery? Remember the weird puzzle egg?

Sean: Oh that egg. Yes.

Kristine: And like you say, the sink uterus she sleeps in?

Sean: Yeah, she’s a hermaphrodite: all of the world in one body, both egg and phallus. Penetrator and womb.

Kristine: Do herms scare you?

Sean: No. Herms make me want to throw theme parties with winged sandals.

Kristine: Ho ho ho eyeroll.

Sean: I dig herms. They can be my friend.

Kristine: Calling all herms, come over to Sean’s for board games. What is the perfect herm hors d’oeuvre?

Sean: Okay, I have 2 questions to ask you before we wrap up. #1) What is the significance of the title, and the very important scene where Oskar dares Eli to enter uninvited? Because the movie only takes on a couple of the classic “vampire rules” and that is the one they emphasize, which I found important.

Kristine: Okay, first of all, that scene was one of my favorites. I was very very moved for both of them. I thought both their actions were totally relatable.

Sean: Yes.

Kristine: Even though I wanted to kick Oskar’s teeth in, I know why he did it. And I loved how horrified he was.

Sean: But the way her body starts spontaneously hemorrhaging? It was very Vaginas Gone Wild.

Kristine: It was incredible. Sacrifice to prove your love?

Sean: If Eli’s intersex, I felt like that move really feminized him.

Kristine: Yeah.

Sean: But why is it significant that he can only enter where invited?

If an Albino Gelfling sprang from the snow and hugged you, you’d be stiff too.

Kristine: Because it’s all about human relationships and trust.

Sean: And letting someone ‘in” is obviously a parallel for romance and emotional vulnerability right?

Kristine: Well, your question speaks to a theme of a lot of the horror movies we have watched. That theme being that the “freak” is “let in” to the world of the human protagonist because in some way that human “needs” or “wants” the freak. Right? Sorry for all the “quotes”. Examples are: the inhabitants of the American Horror Story house, the possessors of the puzzle box in Hellraiser, the mutations that result from scientific exploration in The Fly,etc. They have somehow sought out the freak in some way.

Sean: Right.

Kristine: So, they have all “invited” the freak in, in some form or fashion.

Sean: So there’s a fascination with an encounter with the “wild side” and the Other.

Kristine: I think the title of the film is very romantic, that Eli is the ‘right’ one for Oskar, despite being a herm and a vampire. And the movie mostly supports that.

Sean: It’s just so interesting that the title is this command, this imperative.

Kristine: Except… Is running away from home the right move for Oskar? Maybe.

Sean: I think we’re meant to feel that it is. That his parents kept him like a canary in a cage and that now he’s free…

Kristine: Maybe he is free. Maybe not. Håkan wasn’t free.

Sean: Message to parents: Your very existence means your children will suffer.

Kristine: Next question?

Sean: #2) Why do you think the story is set in the 1980s? And features period-specific references like the Rubik’s Cube and stuff? How important is the time period to the story?

Kristine: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know what was going on in ‘80s Sweden.

Sean: Me neither.

Kristine: But for me, there were a lot of iconic ‘80s “bully” movies, right? The Karate Kid

The lead bully is played by a short-haired Lindsay Lohan, before she broke through in the States.

Sean: I mean, my best guess is that the 1980s are the closest period setting to the contemporary moment that does away with modern technology. It’s the last “pre-tech” decade, because in the ‘90s: cell phones, personal computers, the whole shebang.

Kristine: Sure, but I don’t see how that affects the story so much. I really have no clue why.

Sean: The Gothic vibe? Did you like the ‘80s setting?

Kristine: Sure, I liked it but I didn’t think it was crucial to the story. Maybe I am mistaken. I have to say the sound effects of Eli feeding with awesomely disgusting.

Sean: Leeches be trippin’.

Kristine: So slobbery and animal.

Sean: I really do think it’s a modern classic and I think it will be relevant for decades to come.

Kristine: I don’t argue with that, but I feel emotional distance between me and the movie. It’s those Northern Europeans, they don’t get my lusty Polish nature. The movie needed more kielbasa and pierogi for me to truly love it.

 Ratings Round-Up

The Girl’s rating: I’m traumatized but it sort of feels good.

The Freak’s rating: Masterpiece!

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12 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In [Låt den rätte komma in] (2008)

  1. I’m not really sure the other people in town were significant to the plot. I feel like they might be there just to remind you that you’re watching a vampire movie. Eli after all needs to be a monster. I also love the Eli bleeding scene. I thought it was interesting how Eli suffered through various portions of the film. We’re so used to vampires being physically invulnerable, but emotionally tormented. Eli seemed to have his shit together emotionally. This is a nice contrast.

    1. I think the point about Eli needing to be a monster is well-said, but I REALLY think the film is more interested in throwing the “world of Children” and the “world of Adults” into contrast than you’re giving it credit for. Not to be a douchey English teacher, but something my students and I talk about a lot when wrestling with novels is: If the author is spending time on something, it’s there for a reason, because students are prone to want to claim that things don’t “mean” anything, they’re just there “because.” The more time spent on an element of a story, the more purpose it may have. I think you’re right on that one of things we get out of the townspeople scenes is to show the impact of the uncanny, how Eli’s monstrousness disrupts the normal world. But I also think they’re important to contrasting how much of both Eli and Oskar’s world is about being controlled and being at the mercy of adults – and the fact that the adults in the movie are not your average horror movie “normals” (either comedically idiotic or fundamentally mean) still feels important to me. They’re likable, they’re a real community….. Aren’t they there to sort of suggest that if you can GET THROUGH childhood, then you’re no longer being preyed upon by your peers, you’re just hanging with them, drinking beer at the local dive bar? God, I hate to say it, but don’t they seem to suggest that “It Gets Better”? So then also, one of Eli’s powers is to temporarily turn the tables on that power dynamic (of kids being at everyone’s mercy), with devastating results. Like Kristine pointed out in our discussion, it’s not just that Virginia’s been attacked by a monster, it’s that the monster was “a kid! a kid!” That’s on purpose. The death of Virginia’s boyfriend is the movie’s first climax because those two worlds colliding in THAT way is so significant for me – Eli’s been outed and his cover has been blown but also, a good man who was trying to get to the bottom of why and how the normal world is being disrupted is killed in the attempt – he’s the Investigating Male Authority Figure of horror movies yore, but he’s discovered that children in this universe can LITERALLY leech you to death. That’s part of the horror! And it also reinforces the movie’s fundamental queerness – if Peter Cushing had played that part back in the day, he would have driven a stake through Eli’s heart and “rehabilitated” Oskar. But here, Eli eats him, the Cushing figure is destroyed, and the world of Children wins.

  2. Great as always. I still kind of love the captions, though I WILL say “Herms make me want to throw theme parties with winged sandals” is about the best line I’ve ever seen in print. Or, “print.” Kudos!

  3. That final pool scene so horribly deeply satisfying.

    Totally can’t remember Eli’s sleeping situation–?! Have to check it out again.

    & yeah I also thought Håkan had been an Oskar once (a loner outside kid) which made him less creepy / more sympathetic, explained his devotion, etc. — and made the ending really freaking disturbing, thinking that Oskar would wind up like that one day …I’m actually glad they didn’t made the book backstory explicit.