Vampire movies come in a variety of styles: horror, action, comedy, and romance. Let the Right One In falls somewhere between horror and romance, but not in the sense of The Twilight Saga. Focusing on two preteens, childhood awkwardness and companionship take the place of romantic lust and passion. The outcome is a gratifying tale filled with tragedy, uncertainty, and hope.
The story follows Oskar, a lonely 12-year-old outcast, who’s constantly on the receiving end of his classmates’ bullying. Taken to the brink, he contemplates bringing a knife to school and ‘dealing’ with them once and for all.
One night, a strange man and young girl move into the apartment next to his. They soon meet and we discover that her name is Eli, a grimy and smelly girl who’s ‘about’ 12 years old. Quickly they become friends although she’s initially hesitant to become close to Oskar, while he is eager to ‘go steady’ with her. Eli’s reluctance is due to a secret which coincides with her otherworldly appearance — she is a vampire.
As Eli, Lina Leandersson is magical; part innocence, part vicious beast. She exudes a delicate charm while literally playing a monster. Very self-aware regarding her grim situation, Eli shows vast knowledge and experience well beyond her apparent youth. Oskar, played by Kåre Hedebrant, is full of social awkwardness and naivety. Being the target of constant bullying along with neglect from his divorced parents has had a negative impact on Oskar, leaving him lonely and troubled. In meeting Eli, he discovers a mirrored companion — intelligent, withdrawn, and misunderstood.
A fascinating disparateness between them is their respective understanding of life and, in particular, death. Oskar, filled with rage and vengeance, contemplates killing his bullies without perceiving another way out or the widespread effects his actions would cause. Eli, on the other hand, has no choice to reflect upon, she must kill in order to survive. Fully understanding and having experienced death first-hand many times, she has been carrying that burden with her for many years.
While the film’s main characters are young children, the story and accompanying themes are definitely not for youngsters. There are quite a few grisly deaths and grotesque disfigurements shown. Blood is also plentiful and reoccurring, whether it’s dripping, oozing, or being drunk. However, none of it is gratuitous or glorified, instead being used to effectively represent the characters’ revulsion and invoke uneasiness in the viewer.
Let the Right One In is a unique gem amongst the overcrowded vampire genre. While keeping with the traditional vampire rules and customs, its story takes a different approach than its predecessors. Oskar and Eli’s relationship is more about childhood bonding and friendship rather than sex and romance. The result is an effectual and intriguing film in which the vampire takes second stage to character development and relations. A (unnecessary) US remake was recently produced and is expected to be released this October.