It all starts with a hen party in Transylvania, as a group of screaming women run from shadowy pursuers. The screams are of excitement, not fear. The ladies have drunk and dashed from a local bar; the man giving chase is a bouncer.
The bride-to-be breaks away from the group, ending up in a more familiar scary-movie situation. A vampire jumps at her from the shadows, and we match-cut from her spraying jugular to a dollop of garlic sauce splashing onto a tray of takeaway chips.
The same Gothic font that introduced us to Dracula’s homeland a moment ago spells out Dublin, as an inebriated Matt (Karl Rice) makes his way home in the early hours of the morning.
Matt is caught in the middle of a difficult family situation. His brother Deco (Eoin Duffy) was thrown out of the home some time ago when his struggles with addiction led to one too many items going missing from the house.
Now, Deco shows up from time to time in Matt’s life, to borrow money or shoplift from the supermarket where Matt works. Always with the insistence that his little brother is his “best mate, yeah?”
At home, Matt cooks breakfast for his mother (Hilda Fay), something he does each and every morning. Even when absent, Deco dominates the conversation between Matt and his mother. She wants nothing to do with Deco and forbids Matt from letting his brother past the door.
This warning is a classic set-up, as Deco immediately appears at the back door looking like death incarnate. He’s not feeling well after running into a woman in a bridal gown who bit him the night before. What ensues is a bit of farce typical of the rest of the action in Let the Wrong One In, as Matt attempts to hide Deco from his mother.
All the while, his brother is literally burning up with the sun, repelled by leftover garlic chips on the counter and spewing up geysers of blood. Matt soon puts two and two together, pointing to Deco’s lack of reflection in the kitchen mirror. “What are you insinuating?” asks a confused Deco.
As a horror-comedy, Let the Wrong One In favours big laughs over big scares. It’s all shtick, all the time. Think Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein rather than Frankenstein as a guide to the tone here.
Dialogue is a vaudevillian patter, action is slapstick, and everything is presented in an overblown, kinetic style. Jokes rat-a-tat-tat, squibs and blood-splatter pop off with joyful abandon, and a giddy camera crash zooms and whip pans all over the place.
The film’s energy is gleeful and brisk because vampires are in the air. They’re not literally a part of our daily lives as in the world of the film, but they’re something that everyone has at least a passing familiarity with.
I think it’s a difficult proposition to make a genuinely scary vampire film today. The rules are too codified. Everybody knows about the garlic, the holy water, the stakes in the heart and so on. So much so that when a film attempts to eschew those mainstays it’s hard to get overly invested.
Let the Wrong One In takes the right approach. We know how to beat them, so why not laugh with them for a while?
This has proven a successful formula in recent times with films like Boys from the County Hell and Bad Things Happen in the Middle of Nowhere placing an emphasis on humour over straight horror. Let the Wrong One In is a sillier proposition than those films, however, playing closer to later Hammer pictures or a gorier episode of Goosebumps.
To this end, writer/director Conor McMahon has filled the script and screen with little homages and nods to all manner of vampire stories. Anthony Head appears as the vampire-hunting taxi driver Henry, on a quest to rid Dublin of the vampiric menace and slay his fiance Sheila (Mary Murray), the unfortunate woman from the opening sequence, and now, the ringleader of a vampire blood cult.
Head does a good job of playing off of his persona from Buffy the Vampire Slayer here. There’s an amusing montage of Matt taking slaying lessons from Henry, with Karl Rice being a lot less physically acrobatic than Sarah Michelle Gellar and her high-kicking team of stand-in stunt people.
For a long time, the vampiric hijinks are confined to the family home. There’s an escalation of the farcical elements in these sequences, as Deco and Matt attempt to hide the truth about Deco’s recent transformation.
There’s a laughable number of instances where someone is tied to a chair. By the time the action moves away from the home to The Crypt nightclub to thwart a blood orgy, just about everybody has been trussed to furniture.
The effects throughout Let the Wrong One In impress. There’s a gnarly sequence involving a stop-motion animated exploding head that’s a real highlight. Later, there’s a holy-water face melting, the gore is so heightened that it plays well with the rest of the comedy. Those mallets that are so good at driving stakes into hearts also make for good head bonking. And there’s a lot of that too.
That confidence shines through in the show-stopping closing sequence, which sees Deco’s head superimposed on a bat as he carries Matt back home. The flyover of Dublin looks like the kind of cheesy back projection you’d see in some old-time monster movie and it works because it looks so chintzy.
There’s not much new about Let the Wrong One In, but that’s for the best, as we’re presented with a joyous reverence for genre that’s as charming as it is daft.
Let the Wrong One In is in cinemas nationwide from 20 January.
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