Let the Right One In (2008) – What happens if you fall for a vampire…

What happens if you fall in love with a vampire?  Released the same year as the first installment of the Twilight saga, Tomas Alfredson’s low-key adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel attempts to answer the same question.  While the conclusion reached is more frightening, the central romance is certainly more touching.

Set in a humdrum Stockholm suburb in the early Eighties, Let the Right One In tells the story of Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a lonely twelve-year-old boy who lives in a small apartment with his single mother.  Oskar is a bright kid with no friends, and is bullied at school.  He hasn’t told anyone about it, and at night he fantasizes about taking revenge, and making the bullies squeal like pigs with his pocket knife.

One night he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), a scruffy girl of around the same age who recently moved into the apartment next door to Oskar.  Eli is also lonely; she lives with her “father” Hakan (Per Ragnar) and also has no friends.  She appears poor – she has a funny smell and walks barefoot in the snow.

Eli is a vampire.  Hakan, a combination of pedophile lover, father figure, guardian, and familiar, dutifully attains blood for her by waylaying locals, stringing them up, and bleeding them into a container.

When Hakan is disturbed by passersby in his latest attempt to gather blood, Eli goes hungry.  Unable to control herself, she shanghais local drunk Jocke on his way home from the pub, and feeds.

As Oskar and Eli’s friendship develops, Hakan’s attempts to cover up her true nature and provide blood become more desperate.  After another disastrous attempt to tap blood, Eli ends up on her own, and her interest in Oskar intensifies.

Oskar and Eli’s relationship feels very natural, aided by the open, unguarded performances of Hedebrant and Leandersson.  Although Eli initially tells Oskar they can’t be friends, they are drawn together anyway through their isolation.  The friendship and burgeoning prepubescent romance can be taken at face value, although Eli’s motives remain ambiguous.

Does she want Oskar as a boyfriend, or does she see him as a replacement for Hakan?  Does she encourage him to stand up his tormentors because she cares for him, or does she want to stoke the violent tendencies in him?

The answer is likely a combination of these things.  What happens if you fall in love with a vampire?  Let the Right One In‘s answer is infinitely more sobering – and makes more sense – than the Twilight saga.

In Twilight, Bella falls in love and marries into a beautiful, affluent, civilized, intelligent, family of vampires.  They are benevolent toward humans and tactfully do their blood sucking off screen.

Bella loves Edward so much she begs him to turn her into a vampire, unperturbed by the ramifications – becoming undead, living forever, never sleeping again, and having to suck blood from living flesh to survive.

It probably helps Bella’s decision that Stephanie Meyer found all the actual vampire stuff rather distasteful, and sanitized it to the point of ludicrousness.

In Let the Right One In, the answer in more complex, but also more mundane and frightening.  At one point, Oskar asks Eli how old she is.  She answers the same age as him “…But I’ve been twelve for a very long time.”

Which begs the question, how old was Hakan when Eli picked him up?  If you want to know what happens when you fall in love with a vampire, Hakan’s last few days is your likely answer.

You end up moving from town to town to evade capture and protect your undead loved one.  No friends, no family, you live in anonymous apartments which aren’t your home, and kill locals to provide blood.  You are lonely and devoted, you grow physically older than your vampire lover, and become their parent and their servant.  And, when things finally go bad, you become an emergency ration pack.

Will this be Oskar’s fate?  The final moments suggest this, but as with many things in this beautiful film, the answer is left open to interpretation.

Let the Right One In is also happy to embrace vampire lore.  Unlike Twilight, the vampires in this film have a more traditional reaction to sunlight.  As hugely successful as the Twilight Saga is, someone at the studio should have had the courage to stand up to Meyer and tell her her vision of what happens to vampires in sunlight sucked.  It is perhaps the most belief-buggeringly dreadful moment of flaccid revisionism in movie, or indeed fiction, history.

The title alludes to a lesser known clause of the vampire myth – vampires cannot cross a threshold without first being invited.

Almost all Alfredson’s are the right ones.  The film is gorgeous, luminously lensing the dreary suburb as a magic kingdom. The initial view of Oskar, reflected in his bedroom window looking out over the courtyard below, brought to mind Rapunzel – Oskar trapped in his tower, waiting for someone to come along and rescue him.

Every shot is carefully framed to provide an isolated, snowy backdrop from Oskar and Eli’s unnatural romance.  Alfredson’s depiction of Oskar’s lonely childhood reminds me of Spike Jonze’s interpretation of Where the Wild Things Are.

A few moments of child nudity – a naked cuddle, and Oskar catching a glimpse of Eli changing – might raise an eyebrow in UK or US cinema, but are handled as matter-of-factly as the violence.  There is blood in Let the Right One In, but it is handled in a frank, understated manner – about as titillating as watching someone eating a steak.

Let the Right One In works as a horror romance, as a haunting coming-of-age tale, and would work almost as well without the vampire aspect.  The central relationship between these two lost children is touching, and will stay with you for a long time afterwards, even if the conclusions you draw may not necessarily be happy ones.

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About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and baby daughter.

Posted on 29/05/2012, in Film, Horror, L, Movies, Reviews, Romance, Teen and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I found this movie touching in an odd and original way. Great blog post as you capture that sense of loneliness and difference that is central here. I liked the US remake as well, although it lacked the depth of this.

    • Thanks! It was one of those films I enjoyed almost more after it was finished, and it crept up in my thoughts for days afterwards. I normally avoid US remakes, but I hear it got positive reviews, so might give it a try…cheers for your comments.

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