Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is the sort of movie that tells you nothing, but reveals everything. Like a puzzle, from the end you can work backwards and discover all the riches you missed, lurking quietly within every scene.
Movies almost invariably introduce us to a character at a point of transition. He’ll be forced, one way or another, to strike out on a new path. He’ll be changed forever. With Let the Right One In, we get two such characters for the price of one.
Twelve-year-old Oskar is a weak, picked-upon boy. He’s the type who hides out in the boys' room after school and then sneaks away. Once safe at home, he stabs a tree angrily with a knife, practicing for … for what? A 12-year-old girl materializes behind him, catching him in the act. His reaction is of a boy caught masturbating. “I can’t be friends with you,” she says. After she leaves, he says, “Do you think I want to be friends with you?” Oskar is awkwardly at the age of pre-puberty. He’s about to change.
Eli, the girl, is dark, moody, and mysterious. She has just moved into the apartment next door to Oskar with a man named Håkan. We assume he is her father. The neighbors find it odd that his first action after moving in is to cover the bathroom window with cardboard. It also provokes speculation in town that Eli is never seen, except at night.
That Eli is a vampire is revealed gradually, casually. Håkan fills a bag with a plastic bottle, a knife, a funnel, some rope, and a tank of gas affixed to a mask. He encounters a jogger. After a quick dose of gas, the victim is strung upside down from a tree. The bottle and funnel are carefully situated beneath his head, his jugular is slit, and blood fills the bottle. But, it was not to be. A pesky dog walks up and starts barking. He tries to shush it away, tossing a handful of snow at its snout. He then makes a getaway as the dog’s owners approach.
At home, Eli scolds him. She will now have to go out, risk detection, and feed herself, the old-fashioned way. Håkan is her keeper, but he is old and getting careless. Soon, Eli will be alone and in need of someone new.
At first glance, Let the Right One In appears to be a coming-of-age romance between two kids, and it certainly is that, even though one is a vampire. The two share many tender moments. He offers her candy which she reluctantly eats. After she vomits it back up, he comforts and hugs her. They devise a way of communicating through the adjoining apartment wall using Morse code. They learn to tap out “k-i-s-s.”
In the final scene, with Oskar and Eli on a train to somewhere, we reflect back on the true nature of their relationship. We realize that Oskar is one of many in a long line of loves for Eli. He is her new Håkan.
And that realization turns Eli’s past relationship with Håkan and future relationship with Oskar into a poignant meditation on what it must be like to live forever, on what it must be like to love if you’re ageless. Or, put another way, it is like watching the end of Oskar’s affair with Eli through Håkan and the beginning of Håkan’s through Oskar simultaneously while time for Eli stands still.
After Let the Right One In, there will be more Håkans and there will be more Oskars. And on and on it will go, forever.