Swedish helmer, Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is a film I walked out of the theater not quite sure what I thought of it. On one hand I absolutely love the narrative and think it is elegantly told as it pushes aside the elements of horror traditionally focused on in a vampire feature and instead uses loneliness and isolation as its backbone. On the other hand, there is still something nagging at me that kept me from enjoying the film 100%.
The story centers on 12-year-old Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), he is being bullied at school and when we first meet him he is practicing with a knife in his bedroom overlooking a snowy courtyard. He wants revenge against the boy who has been terrorizing him and he can’t even find the courage to stand up to him. It’s a classic bully story and it is very well presented in order to set up the rest of the film. You understand Oskar’s viewpoint and the reason he distances himself from others, but that all changes the night he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson).
Eli, also 12, has just moved in next door and begins meeting with Oskar during his late night walks in the courtyard outside their apartment building. The two find an instant connection and both simply seem welcome to the idea of having any kind of conversation with someone other than their parents/guardians. Of course, the twist is Eli is a vampire, and while she lives in the body of a 12-year-old she has been around for much longer. The isolated life of a vampire meeting up with a lonely and self-isolating human is a tragic and extremely interesting story and this flick plays it to the hilt.
While the pace of the film moves along just fine, it ultimately finds its legs is in its aftermath, after you have left the theater and you begin to piece together what you have just seen and the decisions the director and screenwriter took in telling the story. Considering so many horror films go to the “scary child” well so often you would think that would be an instant go-to with this flick, but horror is not what’s on sale here, that’s a misconception. This is a story of a vampire trying to lead a life devoid of horror despite knowing they will have to kill to quench their thirst. Topping it off, the fact the vampire in question is in the body of a 12-year-old girl just sweetens the deal. Tying that in with the element of extreme isolation and finding a connection with a bullied outcast suffering from similar issues really opens up the emotional possibilities. Suffice to say, if you are going into this flick looking for scares you are going to be sorely disappointed.
This isn’t to say it is all drama, Let the Right One In certainly has its elements of horror. Eli’s caretaker/guardian is seen making late night jaunts into the woods to string up and bleed humans dry to feed her and when Eli ultimately feeds on humans it isn’t done with kid’s gloves. There is, however, one scene involving some cats that really came off far more cheesy than it should have, but the nature of the horror in this film matters very little, they are more of an exclamation point on a much grander idea. One great example is a scene involving the fiery death of a vampire. The visuals are spectacular, but the moment leading up to it speaks as much to the scene as it does to the heart of the story. You see vampirism as the curse it is and the fact that a lonely boy and a cursed little girl can find togetherness inside of those circumstances is where you find your story.
There are a few questionable moments such as an out-of-nowhere shot of Eli’s naked lower body as well as a kiss shared between Eli and Oskar after she has just fed on someone making the two of them seem insanely morbid rather than just insecure. Of course, when you’re a vampire there is no need to care about such things, but if I had been Oskar I would have been like, “Sure, let’s kiss, but could you wash the dead man’s blood off your lips first please?” Just common courtesy where I come from.
Overall, this is a challenging film. I can see a lot of people walking out wondering just what to make of it as I did, but I think most will ultimately come to a positive reaction. Knee jerk opinions don’t suit this film. There is much more to chew on than just the individual pages, you have to make sure you look at the film’s central narrative and digest the entire flick from that point of view. If you do I think you will come away favorably.
I should mention, if you do go see this flick in the theater be sure you see it with the smallest audience possible. My screening audience was packed and several folks laughed during many moments in the film making it hard to immediately connect with the story as such out-of-place outbursts take you out of the moment. I know you can’t control your audience members, but if you have a small theater in your town that general audiences tend to stay clear of you should be good to go. I hope to catch this film again on DVD, at home, where I don’t invite freaks and I expect it to play even better.