A young man tries to help his sibling who has been turned into a vampire in modern-day Dublin.
Trainspotter-turned-staker Henry might not be John Wick but he did once kill three vampires in a taxi with a sharpened stick, and if that isn’t nearly a pencil I don’t know what is.
He’s on a mission to cleanse Dublin of undead bloodsuckers, after his fianceé Sheila returned from her Transylvanian hen weekend with new teeth and an appetite for the red stuff.
Writer-director Conor McMahon has created a little gem with Let The Wrong One In, a grossly funny but often touching paean to family and fake blood. It reminded me, in several good ways, of When The Screaming Starts, last year’s British horror-comedy about serial killers. The two movies share a welcome sensibility. Both are genuinely witty, taking well-known horror tropes and giving them a fresh spin. Both are home-spun, embedded in familiar cities and streets, without looking homemade. And both make up for low budgets with frankly extraordinary — and I mean extraordinary — amounts of blood. There’s more gushing here than from British luvvies at the BAFTAs.
Matt (Karl Rice) lives at home with his mum; his drug addict brother Deco (Eoin Duffy) has been kicked out and is now no longer welcome to cross the threshold. Then Deco reappears one dangerously sunny morning, his flesh starting to sizzle, and Matt unwisely invites him in. It’s Matt who realises first what has happen to his brother: vomiting gallons of blood, his skin smoking in sunlight, and having no reflection. Deco takes longer to admit it. “That mirror’s broke!” he ripostes defensively when Matt tries to make him see sense, if not himself.
Soon Henry (Anthony Head) is at the door, a one-man vampire killing machine who is trying to temper the mayhem in Dublin caused by the nighttime antics of his bloodthirsty ex-love Sheila and her posse of cackling befanged Hens. The entrepreneurial Sheila is now dead-set on starting an underground nightclub in the city for vampires and their gullible victims, riffing on the traditional pub meat raffle by raffling off actual humans to her fangy friends.
As Deco tries to come to terms with the good and bad of being a vampire, he finds support in unexpected places while dodging latter-day Van Helsings and trying not to drain his own brother dry. Matt meanwhile has to decide whether to support his sibling or stake him.
The one liners come thick and fast: “I’m your own flesh and blood!” implores Deco, begging for help. “I know, it’s all over me!” shrieks Matt after some impressive projectile vomiting of gore all over his one clean T-shirt. I also loved Deco’s gradual full transformation, his attention moving from pictures of boobs to the models’ necks instead, which literally make his teeth grow. It’s like an undead puberty.
Underneath the blood-sucking brother story is a touching tale about bringing a family member who’s lost his way back into the fold, despite the dangers. Family, with its potential for allegories, tangled emotions and powerful feelings of love, loathing and sibling rivalry, is a great platform for a tale about vampires. We’re often ruefully reminded we can’t choose our blood family, though if you a vampire you really can. You can also destroy what you love by taking away their humanity and forcing them to live with you forever, which coincidentally has been my mothering technique from the start. And here’s Vampire-Deco literally draining bodies dry, after years of sucking out every ounce of goodwill from those around him.
There are some lovely details that launch off traditional movie vampire lore. Sheila, bitten on her cheap Hen getaway replete with stolen pints and an inflatable penis, now tramps round Dublin dressed in a grubby polyester wedding dress looking like a raddled Bride of Dracula. Matt’s love for garlic sauce on his chips may be the making of him. The bats are frankly incredible.
Rice and Duffy have lovely chemistry together, suspicious siblings who can’t quite find a way back. The picture of an ordinary family cracked at the seams is utterly authentic, as Ma (Hilda Fay) and Deco take time out to have a shouting match at their moment of greatest peril. Head is terrific, torn between his beloved trains and Sheila (Mary Murray, great fun), who like Deco feels ignored and let down by the one person she feels should care for her.
At an hour 40 Let The Wrong One In slightly outstays its welcome (surely the 90 minute runtime was created for low budget comedy horrors like this) though the performances carry it through, as do the ever-changing, increasingly ludicrous special effects, and the inspired use of gardening tools.
Still, underneath the shrieking and gore this is about feeling excluded, left on the outside looking in, whether at ex-lovers or family. And getting it in the neck from someone whichever side you take.
Note: There are two mid-credits scenes.
Can’t remember who ends up alive, dead or undead? Read my article: Fangs, fiends and family in Let The Wrong One In (very spoilery)
Let The Wrong One In is in selected US cinemas and on digital in the US now:
It’s out on DVD in the UK on 10 May:
Watch the trailer now: