Most horror movies achieve their scares by jolting the viewer. They grab them by the collar and shake them about with a blood-curdling scream or a quick explosion of strings from the soundtrack. But nobody screams in Let The Right One In, an atypical horror movie that possesses the skill and discipline to engage its audience, not with jump scares and orchestral swells, but with chilling, unrelenting quiet.
Set just outside of Stockholm, Let The Right One In tells the story of 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a lonely outsider who is the subject of constant torment from classroom bullies, and who passes his nights clipping newspaper stories of grisly murders. Things change for Oskar when he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a girl his age who has just moved in next door. Oskar and Eli, initially cautious around one another, eventually form a close bond, and Oskar begins to fall in love with her. But it doesn’t take long before Oskar wonders why he never sees Eli in daylight, and why so many people are being found murdered, drained of their blood.
Director Tomas Alfredson uses sound design and sparse lighting to chilling effect, creating an oppressive sense of dread that is amplified by the icy, desolate stillness of the Swedish landscapes. Screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist, adapting from his own novel, never lets the story stumble into formulaic ditches, but instead wisely keeps the focus on Oskar and Eli and their struggle to accept one another. He also isn’t afraid to leave key elements of the story up to the viewer’s interpretation, and the ambiguity helps the film to resonate even more.
Let The Right One In is one of the best horror movies of the decade, and part of the way it achieves this is by being more than just a horror movie. The film, though capable of brutal moments, maintains a sweetness at its core that underlies even the most gruesome elements and helps it to transcend its genre. Hedebrant and Leandersson deliver wonderful performances, deftly handling the mature material in spite of their young ages. Alfredson has crafted a film where the rumble of a growling stomach or the sound of blood being lapped up is more terrifying than the loudest bells and whistles of most horror movies, and more chilling than the stark sheets of Swedish ice that conceal bloodless bodies underneath.