Directing Spotlight: Tomas Alfredson

I picked up a DVD of Let The Right One In from a charity shop back in my home town. It cost me something like £1.50 and judging by the front cover (pictured below) I expected it to be an absolutely average horror movie, with the now done-to-death “scary small girl” trope dominating it.

DVrObutwpXtYvv_1_lI was about as wrong as it is possible to be. This is not your average vampire movie. This is not your average horror movie. This is not your average movie, full stop. To place it within the bracket of “horror” seems almost inappropriate. There are scary scenes, horrifying scenes, and even the odd jump scare, but this is a film far more interested in the relationship between two acutely lonely children, something that is portrayed with genuine affection, however horrifying the actions of these children may be. In short, this film is closer to Moonrise Kingdom than it is to The Ring.

While the acting is superb, it’s really the directing that makes this film what it is. Violent scenes are filmed in an incredibly matter-of-fact manner – there is no shaky cam, no flash close-ups, no camera jerking around to screeching noises in an attempt to make the viewer jump. Instead, the camera sits back, showing all that is needed to be shown, and nothing more. Violence has become a part of normal life for these characters, and the camera treats it exactly like this. As a result, we gain further insight into the main characters, and it becomes easier to follow the real story without the distraction that most horror-movie tropes provide.

Nothing demonstrates the genius of Alfredson’s direction more than the American re-make, named Let Me In. Matt Reeves is by no means a bad director, but he lacks Alfredson’s touch. Everything in Let Me In is bigger, louder and jumpier, and as a result, paradoxically becomes less powerful. All those tired horror-movie direction tactics that Alfredson avoided – the flash close up, the “jump scare” sound effect, the shaky cam – are back. This film isn’t exactly bad – in the context of “vampire movies made in the last decade” it might even be one of the best, but it’s not a shade on the original. Watch this film if you must, but for god’s sake watch the original first.

Let The Right One In is available on Netflix, but it’s also incredibly easy to find DVDs for it. It crops up regularly in second-hand shops, presumably because an awful lot of people bought it expecting Twilight meets The Ring and were so disappointed that they simply couldn’t bear to keep the DVD in their house.

Alfredson’s directorial credits are pretty limited. He has only directed two widely available films – along with the aforementioned Let The Right One In, he was at the helm of the 2011 adaption of Le Carre’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.  Aside from these, Wikipedia lists three other feature films: Bert: The Last Virgin, Office Hours and Four Shades of Brown.

The cast of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is basically the Dream Team of British actors

The cast of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is basically the Dream Team of British actors

Tinker Tailor is possibly my favorite film of the last ten years, maybe even all time. I have watched it countless times, and have found something new every single time. Alfredson directs with simultaneous clinical distance and intense compassion. The performances are all fantastically restrained. When people ask me to describe this film, I come up with the following: “It’s a spy thriller about middle aged men who don’t know how to talk to each other.” I could talk about this film for days, but now is not the time. It’s also remarkably hard to get hold of a cheap copy. Few streaming sites have it, and the DVD is still pretty pricey. Check through ebay for a while, or look around Amazon marketplace, however, and you’re bound to find a reasonably priced copy eventually.

Four Shades of Brown (Fyra nyanser av brunt)

Four Shades of Brown (Fyra nyanser av brunt)

The only other film I’ve managed to get hold of is Four Shades of Brown. I haven’t watched the whole film yet, but from what I’ve seen, this is a “comedy” in the same way that Let the Right One In was a “vampire film” and Tinker Tailor was a “spy thriller.” There are jokes, and they are funny, but there is also a crushing sense of despair and a failure for humans to relate on a basic social level. If you thought it was hard to get hold of a cheap copy of Tinker Tailor then think again: Four Shades of Brown is absolutely impossible to find. Amazon holds it, but for an absurdly high price given that this is a film that was released ten years ago. Still, if you can find a copy, this is a film that few have seen and is well worth it, even just for the hipster value.


Alfredson only has plans for one upcoming film at the moment, and even that seems rather vague – for some time he’s been set to direct The Brothers Lionheart, a Swedish fairytale that, while ostensibly aimed at children, has some pretty dark elements. Given his masterful direction of children in Let The Right One In, which also has dark fairytale elements, if this film ever gets finished, it could be absolutely fantastic.

Harry Robertson, Film writer at Seroword

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  1. TTSS is great, very enthralling despite there being no action sequences. I find it very exciting and I love the ending.

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