Last Christmas saw swathes of the country wrapped in Twilight fever, which captured the teenage imagination with its lofi style and vampires-as-lust motif. Now from Northern Europe comes another spin on the theme, but with considerably more subtlety, grace and depth.
Oskar is a young, weak little boy as pale as the snow that surrounds him. The schoolyard bullies are after him, and he can never seem to get the upper hand. He fantasizes about slicing them to ribbons, even talks himself through it, but he could never carry it out in real life. Then, one day after school he meets a new girl who encourages him to stand up for himself.
Let The Right One In, based on a novel by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist, turns the standard vampire folklore on its head. What if the dark creatures of the night were normal looking people living quietly in cities? What if they werent repelled by garlic or killed by wooden stakes? What if they had human emotions like guilt, fear, and remorse?
Director Tomas Alfredson takes his time unravelling this tale of normal schoolchildren who encounter a supernatural being. The film does not rely on over-the-top special effects or fast-paced action, but instead embraces a more pensive aesthetic which manifests itself as a psychological thriller. The slow narrative remains suspenseful rather than boring, though, making the few scenes of brutality really stand out.
The narrative mainly follows Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) in his attempts to overcome his fears, but there are detours into Elis (Lina Leandersson) actions as her character becomes more developed. Eli is the new girl in town, the stranger who doesnt attend school and who fares surprisingly well in the chilly winter without heavy coats or even shoes. She quickly befriends Oskar and becomes very interested in his life and his problems. As she urges Oskar to fight back, the young boy also starts to gain an interest in her life.
Eli lives alone with a father figure, drinking the blood that he manages to collect for her on routine killings at night. They seem to have been working together a long time, but things go awry when the older man is compromised. Eli still needs fresh blood but abhors the murdering of innocent people, something that she has to do now to stay alive.
Let The Right One In does not have a lot of shocking plot twists. The film instead builds on the classic Greek model of tragedy, which assumes that the audience knows what is going to unfold. This allows everyone to simply enjoy the events as they happen on the screen.
Throughout this simple narrative, the dark, gothic, grotesque things that occur with every generation of humans are shown through the childhood teases, schoolyard bullying, and acts of human revenge as much as they are through the brutal slayings brought on by the presence of the mythical vampire.
In the end, the film is not really a vampire flick. Similar to the 1922 German Nosferatu, here the creature of the night myth is simply the vehicle used to explore heavy, existential topics. Oskar suffers as a normal child might, and hes inspired to overcome his challenges through the help of a friend, as many people in the real world are. Fascinating stuff.