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Let the Right One In

a movie review by Heather Craig

Given that I reviewed True Blood only last month (see http://thescrambler.com/oct09-craig-true-blood.html),  it’s probably too soon for another vampire story, but here I go anyway. After all, vampires are huge right now. In TV, we have the aforementioned True Blood, the teen soap The Vampire Diaries, and the BBC’s entry, Being Human. In books, we have Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter novels, Christine Feehan’s Carpathians, J.D. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series, the teen series on The Vampire Academy, and too many more to even mention. Movies out now or coming out soon include the harvesting of humans for food in The Daybreakers, a freakish carnival in The Vampire’s Assistant (based on the book), and of course the teen romance New Moon.

Let the Right One In came to my attention when Roger Ebert picked it as one of the ten best foreign films of 2008. Before that, I’d never heard of it, and the premise intrigued me. It is a Swedish movie, and I know little of Sweden outside of Wallander mysteries, and of course IKEA.
Almost all vampire stories take the point of view that there is something inherently attractive about vampires, something very sexy. Let the Right One In (based on the novel by John Anvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay) takes the sober and perhaps more realistic view that it is more sad than anything else.

Our protagonist is Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a lonely 12 year old who is beset by a trio of school bullies and dreams of nothing more than his revenge on them. His new neighbor is Eli (Lina Leandersson), a girl who walks around barefoot in the snow and who tells him at their first meeting that she cannot be his friend, a statement which intrigues rather than repels him. She, too, is intrigued by him and seeks him out, watching him try to work a Rubik’s cube. Oskar soon has a full-fledged crush on Eli, who is much more than she at first seems.

Eli, if you hadn’t guessed, is a vampire. Oskar knows that he is 12 years, eight months and nine days, so he is shocked by Eli’s statement that she is “about 12.” Oskar soon figures out the truth about Eli, but life has been unkind to him from the beginning it seems, and  so he is more curious than horrified by the truth of his friend. Eli encourages him to stand up for himself with the bullies. Their friendship/romance is naïve and shockingly sweet, contrasting nicely with the grisliness of other parts of Eli’s life.

There are adults in the movie, but be they neglectful parents, harassed teachers, baffled police, or townspeople awash in their own misery, they are as useless as in a Peanuts cartoon.  The children must confront and deal with their own problems. Even Eli’s procurer, a man who commits murder in order to keep her alive, eventually leaves her, however nobly.

The two leads are great here. Lina Leandersson gives Eli an unutterable weariness with her existence, but she accepts what she is without obvious moral guilt. Her liking for Oskar, in spite of herself, makes us like her more because we like Oskar. Kare Hedebrant is particularly great, giving Oskar almost complete isolation in his life, yet making him relatable. His feelings for Eli are inevitable, and when he asks, “Do I have a chance with you?”, your heart smiles for him.

Yet this is not a sweet story at heart. There are several murders of perfectly nice people, Oskar is beaten and in one instance almost killed by bullies, and he goes home to parents who have no time for him. There is a lot of blood here, but luckily some of it is more implied than seen. Vampire stories do not, as a rule, touch the concept of child vampires because there is something inherently ugly in the idea of a child murdering for blood. It is one thing when it is (usually) a good-looking adult man, and another entirely when the murderer is a child. Anne Rice, the queen of the vampire story, deals with the subject, and those who remember the fate of Claudia in Interview with the Vampire recall that even to vampires, child vampires may seem an abomination, just wrong.

The starkness of the Swedish landscape fits this story perfectly. While there are a few trees, you are mostly taken with the extreme white, snow-covered vastness and struck with how very cold it obviously is. I was almost surprised by how often the children play outside.

The DVD extras include a behind the scenes feature in which director Tomas Alfredson states that the story takes place in 1982 Sweden when Sweden was all but an Iron Curtain country. This statement was strange because there was nothing to place the story in time that I could see. Perhaps if one knew modern Sweden, one could see the difference. The language default on the DVD is dubbing into English. You must choose Swedish language with English subtitles. The DVD is available for rental and on Instant Play on Netflix. An American remake is in preproduction with a 2010 release date.

Note : the title, Let the Right One In, refers to the fact, common in most vampire mythologies, that a vampire must be invited into one’s home and otherwise, for whatever supernatural reason, cannot enter.

 

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