Fangs for the Memories
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of the greatest television shows in the history of the medium. Despite being the brainchild of a known abuser, it’s a series that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and The Wire. Buffy used humor, drama, horror, and so, so much more to tell a story about how high school is hell and how adulthood is worse. Despite some issues that would earn it a couple of side-eyed glances,* Buffy continues to have an enormous amount to say and to inspire new viewers.
Along similar lines, Let the Right One In is one of the greatest vampire movies ever made. This 2008 Swedish horror film is about more than merely the undead killing the bejeezus out of luckless victims, though there is that. It’s about isolation, desperation, and an odd kind of tenderness in a very strange friendship.
So why are we talking about those two works? Well, the Irish horror-comedy Let the Wrong One In was just released. It name-checks the 2008 Swedish vampire classic, features one of the former actors from Buffy in a supporting role, and aspires to a tone similar to the other classic Shaun of the Dead. If you’re a filmmaker and you plant your flag that close to the all-timers, you better be able to back that swagger up. At times, Let the Wrong One In can.
It’s been a minute since a vampire film began during a dark and stormy night at a Transylvanian castle, but that’s what we have here. Sheila (Mary Murray) is planning to get married. She’s celebrating her nuptials in the only way that makes sense — by getting absolutely hammered. As Sheila and her friends stagger drunkenly around the castle, she encounters a gentleman of the undead persuasion. You can guess what happens to her from there.
Back home in Dublin, Matt (Karl Rice) is lamenting the state of his family. He gets along well with his Ma (Hilda Fay) well enough. It’s his brother Deco (Eoin Duffy) that’s the problem. Every family** has one member that’s a living nightmare, a rampaging pain in the ass. If it can be drunk, snorted, scammed, stolen, or otherwise abused, Deco is the one who’s involved.
As a result, Deco has been kicked out of the family home. Also unsurprisingly, Deco continues to lean on his brother for favors. Matt isn’t exactly stunned to see Deco skulking around asking for help. It’s the nature of the help that’s a bit odd. You see, Deco has developed a condition. Sunlight is unkind to him. He needs to actively be invited into places. And then there’s his craving for blood.
The bad news is that Matt now has to deal with a sibling who’s gone full nosferatu. The worse news is that Deco is being tracked by Henry (Anthony Head), a taxi-driving vampire hunter. The even-worse-than-that news is that Henry’s fiancee has hit town. You guessed it, it’s Sheila, and she’s going through some serious life changes of her own.
If you want to save yourself some time, know that Let the Wrong One In is a pretty good little horror-comedy. With a horror-comedy, though, it needs to be some degree of both funny and scary. Director Conor McMahon is no stranger to the genre with his previous films Dead Meat and Stitches. He’s clearly a big fan of Edgar Wright, and like Wright, McMahon does nice work calibrating his edits to either elicit a decent jolt or (more often) a gag. Presumably, he doesn’t have much of a budget, and he wisely allows the city of Dublin to do a great deal of the heavy lifting. Having said that, McMahon has cobbled together enough for some not-great green screen effects and some genuinely impressive makeup and gore gags.
Now, is it funny? McMahon wrote the screenplay and it reminds me a good deal of the defective superheroes comedy Mystery Men. In that film, about sixty percent of the jokes weren’t so good, but the other forty percent hit like a hammer. Here, there are a number of fun concepts, such as taxi drivers being the holders of hidden knowledge and the head vampire played by a middle-aged suburbanite. Surrounded by that are limp fart jokes and semi-amusing moments of physical comedy. It also doesn’t help that McMahon has an amazing analogy — Deco was a vampire toward his family before becoming a vampire — and doesn’t push it nearly as far as it ought to go. That’s a shame since it would have made the film more unique and more personal.
I liked Karl Rice as Matt, the emotional center of both his family and the film. He’s a perfectly normal guy who also gets doused in gallons of blood over and over. Eoin Duffy is the main comedic force as the dopey dervish of destruction, Deco. It’s a smart performance because underneath the mugging and vampire business, Duffy shows the loneliness and desperation of Deco. He’s genuinely surprised to learn the rest of the family thinks he’s a screwup, and it genuinely hurts him.
Let’s take a moment to talk about Anthony Head. He’s a legitimately skilled performer, and back in his Buffy days, his prissy librarian Rupert Giles was a dependable source of dry humor, fatherly wisdom and unexpected edge. The role of Henry isn’t as well-written as Giles, meaning Head has less time and fewer opportunities to flesh out his character. I was delighted to see him in the film, and even with a flimsily written character, he’s entertaining. Unfortunately, he’s stuck with a lame running joke involving an obsession with trains. I wished a consummate pro like Head had a meatier role to sink his teeth into.
Despite all my nitpicking, Let the Wrong One In isn’t a bad little film. Conor McMahon made it during the worst of the pandemic, and he still managed to make a fun romp about working-class Irish vampires. If you pour yourself a nice Jameson and serve it with beef and Guinness pie, you’ll get into the right mindset. My only advice is to make sure the beef is bloody.
*For a show that was remarkably forward-thinking, it was also stunningly white. Also, a supporting character that’s kinda incel-adjacent wasn’t great either.
**If you don’t know who the black sheep in your family is, well…I hate to be the one to tell you…