Ask any horror super fan to list their 10 favorite films of the last decade and odds are good that Tomas Alfredson's Let The Right One In will end up somewhere in the ranking. The Swedish vampire film, beloved by viewers for its eerie lighting, subtle horror, and beautifully strange young actors, turns 10 years old today, and it remains a crossover hit, drawing fans far outside of its native country and even some fans who don’t tend to enjoy horror films at all.
Let the Right One In’s journey to modern classic was a relatively smooth one, but it wasn’t without its interesting wrinkles. So, in celebration of its 10th anniversary, here are 10 facts about the film, from its director’s reluctance to adapt a novel at all to the unusual way its stars learned their lines.
1. TOMAS ALFREDSON WASN'T INTERESTED IN ADAPTING A BOOK.
Let The Right One In began its life as a 2004 novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, which became a bestseller in Lindqvist's home country of Sweden and soon began attracting movie producers interested in bringing the story to the screen. Ironically, director Tomas Alfredson was not among the people initially circling the project. He was gifted the book by a friend (something he claimed he usually objects to, because he finds book selection too personal for gift giving), and after letting it sit around his house for a while, he picked it up and became engrossed. After reading Lindqvist’s novel, Alfredson expressed interest in adapting it for the screen, despite a general belief that great books cannot be made into great films.
"I really think you shouldn't do films of good books," Alfredson told the Los Angeles Times. "The reason is that the depth of a good book is so much greater than you could possibly do on screen in 90 minutes. But this was sort of the exception."
2. ALFREDSON WASN’T INTERESTED IN WATCHING OTHER HORROR FILMS.
Before Let The Right One In, Alfredson was best known not for horror, but for comedy films and stage productions. When reading the novel, he noted he was drawn in by the story of Oskar not because he befriended a vampire, but because he was an isolated child who was also a victim of bullying.
"It's very hard and very down-to-earth, unsentimental," Alfredson said. "I had some period when I grew up when I had hard times in school ... So it really shook me.”
When approaching the story for the screen, Alfredson deliberately avoided educating himself about the horror genre, relying instead on other influences to shape the look and tone of the movie, including the paintings of Hans Holbein. For him, flooding his brain with other horror films would have been counterintuitive.
“I did the exact opposite actually because I did not want to know what other people have done,” he told Total Sci-Fi Online. “You see, I think that too many filmmakers watch movies by other directors to try and inspire themselves but, to me, this is totally pointless. I would rather get my influence from art or music. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy horror movies when I see them on the television, but I am totally uneducated toward the genre and I never seek them out."
3. IT TOOK NEARLY A YEAR TO FIND THE LEAD ACTORS.
So much of Let The Right One In is carried by the characters of the boy Oskar and the vampire Eli, and even though one of them is a centuries-old vampire, they both still had to be played by children who somehow had great chemistry. Alfredson knew that if he made one mistake in casting his two young stars, he could lose the whole movie, so he spent nearly a year working through open casting calls trying to find the perfect pair of children to inhabit the two roles.
"It was very complicated,” he said. “I wasn't just [trying] to find one boy and one girl; I had to find the perfect match to the same character. It is also very important they have good families and are stable persons. It is a big responsibility to carry a whole film on your 12-year-old shoulders."
Eventually, Alfredson found his instantly iconic stars in Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli, and settled on a somewhat unusual way of working with them.
4. THE KIDS WERE NEVER ALLOWED TO READ THE SCRIPT.
For his own “artistic reasons,” and because professional child actors are not a concept in Sweden the way they are in America, Alfredson settled on a method of working with his two young stars that might seem unusual given how accustomed many moviegoers are to seeing children working in Hollywood. In the audition process, and even during principal photography, Hedebrant and Leandersson were not allowed to read the script. Their parents read it to approve all of the content, but the two actors were fed all of their lines and scenarios by Alfredson himself as a means of focusing on creating very specific moments.
“They didn't read at all, and not during the shooting either. I never let them read anything from paper, so I always read it aloud to them, so they learned by ear, rather than eye,” he recalled. “They didn't know what it was all about really, but they started to make this puzzle every day. ‘Okay, I'm coming in here now’ because I think the best way to get the best out of a child actor is ... You really cannot say ‘you are disappointed with adults.’ They cannot do anything with that, but if you say, ‘You're very upset with this specific person right now in this very moment because you're very hungry and he's just taken your food away.’ You really have to take every and each situation for what it is, and not trying to make it into a bigger puzzle. That's my way to it."
5. ELI’S VOICE WAS SUPPLIED BY ANOTHER ACTRESS.
A number of techniques were employed to make Leandersson look and feel like a being who is hundreds of years old, many of them visual, but one very important creative decision came in the film’s elaborate sound design process. To make Eli seem even more ancient and also androgynous (the character is a castrated boy in the books, which is also suggested in the film), it was decided that Leandersson’s voice would not be used, and instead an older actress would dub all of her dialogue. According to the film’s sound designers, the crew took a vote, and actress Elif Ceylan was chosen to provide the voice.
6. A PEDOPHILIA SUBPLOT WAS CUT.
In adapting the novel for the screen, Lindqvist and Alfredson had to make some key decisions on how best to focus their story on the relationship between Eli and Oskar, which meant that certain elements simply had to go. Among these was the thread running through the book that Hakan, Eli’s elderly blood supplier, was also a pedophile. For Alfredson, this introduced too much thematic baggage into the plot to be handled properly within the film’s runtime, so it had to go.
“So that really gave another tone to the whole thing. That’s too often used as say ... an emotional special effect, without taking responsibility for what that really is,” he said. “It’s a really complicated thing to debate on screen, I think. So that would’ve disturbed the story a lot to have that."
7. A CASTRATION SEQUENCE WAS ALSO ABANDONED.
The revelation that Eli was not born a girl, but was instead a boy who was castrated 200 years earlier, is present in Lindqvist’s novel and is hinted at in one brief but memorable shot in the film. According to Alfredson, though, this was originally going to be explored in much greater detail through a flashback sequence that actually showed the castration taking place. When it came time to shoot the scene, however, Alfredson got cold feet because of certain elements of … realism.
“I tried to do a flashback scene, where we see the castration of Eli [the girl vampire] 200 years ago, with very close shots of a knife coming close to skin, starting to cut, and I said to the make-up guys that I want to do this,” he recalled. “They said, 'You can’t do this unless it is real animal, because if you are so close to the camera, you can’t use rubber or special effects,' so I said 'Okay, let’s do that then,' then I forgot about it, and the assistant director said, 'We have the pig here now.' I said, 'What pig?' 'The pig for the cutting shot. A living pig. He is outside together with the slaughterer.' So I went outside the studio and a butcher was standing with his knife, and this pig looking with his sad eyes. I said no. I wouldn’t be able to sleep if we killed him. That’s bad karma."
8. IT FEATURES A LOT OF VERY SUBTLE CGI.
Let The Right One In is a relatively small film, with few central characters and locations. It’s far from a massive, effects-driven blockbuster, but that doesn’t mean that Alfredson was shy about using computer generated effects to his advantage when the film called for it. The reason many viewers may not notice, though, is that Alfredson and his team employed CGI in often very small ways, to accentuate the strange movements and behaviors of Eli and to add to the eeriness of the wintry landscape at night.
"There is a lot of CGI in this film," Alfredson said. "I think over 50 CGI shots. And it’s a fantastic tool box to use, but it seems like almost everyone is using it too much. If there’s a car explosion, it seems like the car has to explode for three minutes, and has to be the biggest car explosion you’ve ever seen. And it’s not good for the material or the reality to it. So, we tried to hold back on that as much as possible. You can do so much with those effects in a subtle way. For instance, changing the size of the eyes by 10 percent. Just make them 10 percent smaller, and nobody could tell what you have done, but it’s really spooky when someone suddenly has little, smaller eyes. In one scene, they were bigger and so on. People can not really pinpoint it. If you make a car explosion for four minutes, everyone will know it’s fake and why."
9. ALFREDSON WASN'T HAPPY ABOUT THE FILM'S REMAKE.
Even as Let the Right One In began getting noticed from American critics and audiences, studio executives were already looking for a way to Americanize the story, and by the fall of 2008 Cloverfield director Matt Reeves had signed on to write and direct the new adaptation of Lindqvist’s novel. Even before that film, titled Let Me In, was released in 2010, Alfredson was outspoken about his misgivings, and actually turned down an offer to make the American version himself.
“Initially they approached me to do the remake but I decided not to participate in it," he said. "I am too old to make the same film twice and I have other stories that I want to tell. I think that it is a little sad. I wish that American viewers would just see the foreign language version! When I first got asked about the remake I said ‘Can you not just get everyone to see this one? It is a perfectly good film you know!’"
10. IT ALMOST BECAME A TV SERIES.
Even after Let Me In arrived in American cinemas, producers weren’t done with Let The Right One In. In 2015, A&E began developing a potential TV series, written by Teen Wolf creator Jeff Davis. In the summer of 2016, TNT ordered a pilot for the series, but by the spring of 2017 the network had decided not to proceed with the pickup, and the project fell off the radar. At the time, it was reported that production company Tomorrow Studios was still interested in the concept and potentially shopping it around to other networks, so perhaps the idea still has a future.