Let the Right One In
Film review by: Witney Seibold
While they are both about young humans discovering love and closeness in the arms of a vampire, do not confuse Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish pre-teen angst film “Let the Right One In” with Catherine Hardwicke’s teen blockbuster “Twilight.” I haven’t seen the latter, but from what I can tell, it’s merely sexless porn for 14-year-old girls, replete with all the accoutrements of the art form: heaving chests, unhealthy obsession, and the kind of sex that parents wish their real-life 14-year-olds were having, i.e. none at all. “Let the Right One In” takes a similar premise, but knows, a priori, much more about the way kids behave, the way they communicate, and how to let us into their world. Indeed, the word “vampire” is only used once in “Let the Right One In,” and the film wisely takes its focus off of the horror mayem, and puts it squarely and clearly onto the face of its young hero Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and his mysterious new friend Eli (Lina Leandersson). This film has a vampire in it, but is not about vampires. It’s one of the best films of the year. I hope you can forgive me for using the phrase a priori.
Oskar is 12, and is suffering. His parents have separated, and neither seems too interested in looking after him. His mom seems to always be at work, and his dad would rather spend time with drinking buddies. Oskar is bullied endlessly at school by tyrannical peers. The bullying he experiences is not the teasing and head-in-toilet type of bullying seen in American films, but a rather brutal mélange of beatings and torture. Oskar seems to have no friends at all, and has begun having violent revenge fantasies about his attackers; he carries a knife and practices stabbing trees.
One evening, in the snowy midnight courtyard of his bland apartment building, Oskar meets Eli. Eli, a new neighbor, is his age, but announces right off the bat that they cannot be friends. They are clearly intrigued by each other, though, and are soon meeting in the courtyard regularly.
Eli lives with an older man (Per Ragnar) who may or may not be her father. The vagueness of their relationship is very creepy; is there something sexual between them? She does, however, seem to know about his late-night treks to secluded spots where he brutally kills people and takes their blood.
Yes, Eli is a vampire. The title is based on the old vampire premise that they cannot enter your home unless expressly invited. This is the first film I have seen that shows what happens when an invitation is not extended. Eli is constantly warning Oskar that they cannot be friends, but they do manage to go out together a few times. He feeds her chocolate. She throws up. He kisses her. “Will you be my girlfriend?” he asks. “I’m not a girl.” She replies. There are a few bloody scenes, but I guess with a vampire lurking about in your movie, you need at least one or two of those.
Neither Oskar nor Eli seem terribly excited or enthused about much anything, and even seen a bit dead-eyed in each other’s presence. Do not, however, mistake this for apathy. I see it as an honest way to depict the romantic gestures of 12-year-olds. I started getting my first crushes at age 12, and would have likely behaved in an identical fashion, had I the opportunity to take a mysterious young lady out on the town: scared, using seduction techniques that are mostly childish, but desperately sincere. I would also likely be o.k. with the fact that she was a vampire. “Let the Right One In” is about two gloomy souls finding comfort in one another, and in one another’s natural gloominess. These are not broody teens, byronically whining about vague existentialist problems. These are two kids who know how close tragic violence can truly cut to the bone – one by experience, one by necessity – and how they find kinship and, yes, love, in one another.