[8.3/10] The unspoiled state of childhood opens up so much potential in a story. Children are largely unmarked by civilization, still in the process of learning how to behave, what to hide and what to put on display for the world, as they walk the path of adulthood. That means that children maintain a certain innocence, that allows them to take in the world free of pretense or presumption, and also that they maintain some of the parts of humanity that we’d prefer were left on the savannah, impulses toward cruelty and exclusion.
Let the Right One In embraces both. It tells the story of Oskar, a twelve-year-old boy in a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden. Oskar is a reserved child, bullied at school and quiet at home. Oskar befriends his neighbor, Eli, a pale young woman who, by appearances is a twelve-year-old girl. In fact, Eli is a vampire, who by her own account, is twelve, but has been twelve for a very long time.
And in the unusual circumstances, one of the most human and real cinematic romances develops on the silver screen. What’s impressive about Let the Right One In is how well it captures the stumbling affections and interactions of youth. Oskar is clearly timid and shy, and yet blooms beneath the pale light of Eli’s company. Eli is more worldly given her state of being, but still seems caught in her childlike mindset, knowing enough to beware the dangers of befriending a living boy, but also still thinking and feeling like a child.
The way the film pairs that puppy love with Oskar’s realization that the object of his affection is something not quite human is masterful. It matches the reluctance of Oskar, given his meek nature, with the reluctance of Eli, given the risks that exposing her true nature to a human being entails, putting them on even footing. Each quality of their existence has isolated them, making them so welcome to find solace and comfort in one another that it becomes worthwhile, if not easy, to overcome those difficulties.
As much as the focus of the film is that budding friendship, it doesn’t stop taking those difficulties seriously. Eli must constantly conceal who she is, and yet feed and survive. The plot threads of her adult familiar, who tries to find her nourishment without detection, or the locals who fall victim to her or begin to suss out what’s really haunting their small town, are ever-present threats that cast a cloud over Eli and Oskar’s entanglement, just as the bullying Eli faces at school casts a pall over his day-to-day life.
The film remains markedly nonjudgmental about all these events. Make no mistake -- Eli is a murderer, and the horrors she inflicts are morally questionable at best. And yet even as Let the Right One In leads to you sympathize with both Oskar and Eli, to feel the powerlessness Oskar experiences when pushed up against a locker, or the hunger Eli endures as the hours between feedings grow longer, it presents these events matter-of-factly, leaving it for the viewer to perform the moral calculus.
Much of that comes from the imagery and cinematography used. The Scandinavian backdrop provides stark vistas to Oskar and Eli to inhabit, with grayscale tones providing the palette and mood of the film. Everything on the screen is washed out, accentuating the pallid visitor to Oskar’s courtyard, and creating a certain sense of realism behind this supernatural premise.
The same is true for the way the film reimagines and repurposes vampire lore. The notion of the familiar, the hypnotized servant of the vampire who does their bidding, takes on new meaning when Eli’s minion is an older man who poses as her father who suffers mightily for her benefit. The vampiric prohibition on entering without invitation is given weight when the effects of Eli’s attempts to defy it become evident. Even the vampire’s classic need to consume blood is given a different character when Eli, in a gesture of friendship, eats a candy offered to her by Oskar and then throws up behind a building. So much about the rules of Eli’s existence are familiar, but so much of how those rules are realized makes this a compelling take on the myth.
But the film doesn’t just throw out bits of lore for fun -- it uses them. The pangs induced in Eli at the sight of blood moves the big reveal of the film, and finds the hardship for the two to overcome their different natures. The film never stops taking the implications of its one vampiric lead, or the childhood concerns of its human lead, seriously.
Instead it follows the notion of a youthful love between a young child and seemingly young creature of the young to its natural endpoint, one that, characteristic of the film’s nonjudgmental tone, allows the audience to interpret the tenor and meaning of that concordance. On the one hand, it could be that Oskar brings out Eli’s innocence, brings her closer to humanity and to affection with people as something other than vessels that allow her to persist. Or it could be that Eli corrupts Oskar, turning a timid boy into someone willing to hurt, possibly even to kill, for himself and for her.
That ambiguity gives Let the Right One In a certain power. It’s easy to romanticize and simplify childhood, but children are neither angels nor devils. They are the same morally complex beings that we are, still containing multitudes, only as yet unfinished. Let the Right One In embraces that truer sense of what it is to be maturing, to be taking in this world and deciding what you will be within it, and whom you will be it with. That means that guileless affection coincides with mortal allowances, that the capacity for great cruelty can give way to the warmth of kindness, and that the places we find affection and connection can lead us toward either. It’s a film that centers on the cold, the lethal, and the dead, and finds something as warm, life-affirming, and alive in its midst.
Suffice to say that this one is definitely different. Maybe the Twilight series could learn a thing or two from this one? :P
This is not a horror film. Instead it is a story of love. And oh boy, what a story. One of the best love films ever made.
Watched it when I was eight or nine or something. I couldn't sleep for like a month.
The most humane vampire movie
The Swedish version, has more with the images, suggests more than shows, I liked it more
One of the best movies of this decade that best catches the sense of the 80s and not the neon side of it, but that bleak, almost neo-noir feel of old Polaroids. Visually, it is gorgeous. The content pulls on your heart, the pre-adolescent love beats intensely and lingers wantingly while gruesome things happen in the background. And yet, it leaves a warm smile on your face.
Eu li o livro antes e ele eé muito mais pesado e asauatador. Mas ótimo filme, muito bem feito e fiel à história.
I've read the book first and it's so mich darker and grittier. But great movie anyway. Well done and faithful to the story.
The film has simple and very few dialogues but it knows where it goes and the ingredients to make an incredible movie.
I felt it dragged towards the end, but it's a wonderfully unique story, shot beautifully.
I thought this was going to be an exceptionally good horror flick and was very surprised and disappointed when it turned out to be a mediocre drama with some gory and brutal sequences.
To summarize the plot: when the 12-year old vampire girl Eli moves with a much older man (her father?) to a small town near Stockholm people start to disappear or are being found dead! A boy from the neighborhood, Oskar, who always gets beaten up by bullies at school, falls in love with Eli and nearly pays with his life for that and Eli leaves town. When some of the bullies nearly kill Oskar, Eli helps him by killing the bullies and the two of them leave town together.