Part of the joy and value of the horror genre is in discovering spooky stories that rise above superficial plot devices and refuse to be easily dismissed for their graphic depictions of violence. Although often intended to simply elicit terror in its audience, the genre takes as its influence the common fears of society, which at times can be construed in a suggestive commentary on social mores and the state of modernity. From German Expressionist films depicting political anxieties, to American films of the 1950s expressing fears of the atomic age, most of the horror films from this era expressed social apprehension and doubts about the future. As we moved towards the latter part of the 20th century, with films like Hitchcock's 'Psycho' and Powell's 'Peeping Tom', the genre shifted its focus to phobic fears of our physical beings and the voyeuristic nature of filmmaking, where it has remained ever since.
Unfortunately, not all films which fall under the veil of horror can be appreciated to this extent. As of late and with the trend toward "remakes" and "reimaginings", the genre appears to be in a bit of a slump, for the most part lacking originality and imagination (which is not to say, they fail to be entertaining). In the last twenty years, only a select few are worth mentioning for aspects beyond their vivid portrayals of gore and misery. 'Let the Right One In,' from director Tomas Alfredson, is one such film. It's an atypical story in that it avoids the fantasy and idealization of vampires for a sense of realism and traditional folklore. It's a character-driven film, where being the undead is really more of a personality trait or a peculiar quirk.
In a nondescript apartment complex of Stockholm suburbia, twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hederbrant) is a loner who borders on misanthropy. His parents are divorced, he doesn't have any friends, and he spends his nights cutting newspaper clippings of violent crimes. Regularly bullied by a trio of sadistic boys, he rehearses revenge in the courtyard by stabbing a tree. One night, Eli (Lina Leandersson) moves next door to Oskar. She, too, is lonely. Looking rather pale, dirty, and smelly, she walks onto the snow without shoes or a jacket. They meet over a conversation about his Rubik's Cube and develop a close friendship as they learn Morse code together. He asks her to go steady. She explains she's not a girl and that she's been twelve for a long time. Forced to reveal her true nature, their bond only grows and they become protective of each other.
From a script by John Ajvide Lindqvist, based on his novel of the same name, Alfredson crafts an ominous tale that unfolds into an indelibly plaintive narrative, refusing to reveal all its secrets early on. It relies heavily on the performances of its young protagonists, Hedebrant and Leandersson, to pull us in and maintain our curiosity. Both newcomers to the world of filmmaking, they exude an incredible amount of confidence and maturity in their roles as desperately lonely preteens who discover friendship, camaraderie, and love in one another. While tweens flock to theaters for the conventional and overly melodramatic vampire romance of the 'Twilight' series, adults can enjoy this much better and darkly evocative fairytale of two withdrawn adolescents who discover an improbable love affair.
Designing an atmosphere of tragedy and misery, Hoyte Van Hoytema's photography creates a grim and melancholic tone , assisted by a palette intentionally drained of color, where even blood looks almost black. It's all very impressive and rather mesmerizing. The film also runs the gamut of various myths which complement its air of mystery. Eli's familiar, Håkan (Per Ragnar), beautifully foreshadows Oskar's future with Eli. From having to be invited into a home and behaving more animalistic during the hunt to looking like a pauper with the smell of death and dirty fingernails, a large variety of myths found in the Western culture are on display. It even applies more recent inventions like the aversion to sunlight, taken from Murnau's 'Nosferatu'. All are put to use in moving the plot forward.
Although Eli may be fearsome and rather spooky due to our perception of vampires, there is also a sadness and vulnerability in her demeanor, of a desire to be normal and have more human interaction. No matter her true age, she is still at that uncomfortable stage between a child and an adult. In fact, it's almost disheartening to think that she will forever remain there. Oskar's home-life and lack of communication with his parents seems reminiscent of Johan from Bergman's 'The Silence'. An homage, perhaps? There is a certain spookiness to his behavior as well. Though he seems to not care for violence, he's full of anger and animosity towards the world. Still, he hungers for intimacy and acceptance. Turns out, they are the only two souls on the planet that can adequately satisfy each other's needs.
'Let the Right One In' is one of the best horror films to be released in the last twenty years! The film goes beyond conventional genre tropes to elicit sadness, despair, and hope --- more so than fright and terror. It oddly captures teenage angst in a daunting way that most all teen movies fail to do. It conveys an existential realism of anxiety and somberness towards an unknown future. This Swedish gem is absolutely captivating, richly complex, and an innovative take on vampire lore --- a bittersweet and tragic love story that just happens to involve a vampire.
Framed in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Magnolia presents an attractive 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer that perfectly captures the film's somber visual design. The picture quality of this Blu-ray disc may not compare to some of the best available, but based on its own merits, 'Let the Right One In' makes a very impressive hi-def presentation.
Colors are deliberately understated for a bleak and dreary atmosphere, but they're still nicely saturated and accurate. Daylight scenes display primaries that are full and vibrant, giving the picture a bit of life. Contrast is comfortably bright and revealing, with vivid whites and a gradation level that allows for wonderful depth of field. Seeing as how the majority of the film takes place at night and in low-lit interiors, black levels were fairly solid but not as dynamically rich as they could be. However, delineation in these same dark scenes holds strong, and objects in the shadows are perceptibly elaborate. Fine object and textural details are surprising and appreciable, exposing unique facial features and stitching in sweaters and scarves. Flesh tones appear natural and appropriate for the cold Swedish climate. This is an excellent reproduction of the film's artistic intent and tone.
Much like the video, the DTS-HD Master Audio provided here may not be the next sonic experience to demonstrate one's sound system, but it's an excellent audio presentation nonetheless. In the original Swedish language with English subtitles, the soundtrack is all about subtlety and ambiance, where even silence exhibits a wonderfully nuanced characteristic.The mix is well-balanced within the front soundstage, offering marvelous clarity and separation. Vocals aren't just well prioritized, they also maintain a terrific tonality with clear emotional expressions within the dialogue. The musical score is the real star of the show, as rear activity offers a wonderful sense of envelopment and immersion. Dynamic range broadens the orchestration for a wide and spacious quality, where even the echoes of victims fill the room. Low bass doesn't play a major role, but it's effective at adding intensity and a palpable weight to those scenes requiring it. This lossless track is excellent at generating a suspenseful atmosphere of gloomy tension.
As a side note: According to some buzz on the internet, as well as extensive conversation in the HDD forums, it appears that the subtitle translation found on the Blu-ray disc is not the same as that shown in theaters. With that being the case, it's worth mentioning that the subtitles are a bit of a letdown and rumors are circulating that Magnolia Home Entertainment is taking care of the issue. Still, the subtitles convey a general idea of what is said on screen, but it's a simplified version which lacks certain emotional attributes important to the characters.
The only real disappointment in this Blu-ray edition of 'Let the Right One In' is in the bonus features. Mostly presented in standard definition, they don't offer fans much other than the most basic of supplements.
Pulling off a rarity in horror films today, 'Let the Right One In' transgresses and defies the very genre that defines it. Being both chillingly beautiful and hauntingly lyrical in its unique depiction of loneliness and desperation, the film is sure to become a cult classic in the years to come. This Blu-ray edition showcases a terrific audio presentation that perfectly complements the excellent image quality of the film. A must buy for any fan of great horror cinema.
All disc reviews at High-Def DVD Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More about our gear.
Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.