Let the Right One In is not only a satisfying horror film from beginning to end, one of the best entrances in the vampire genre since Blade, Interview with a Vampire and Bram Stoker’s Dracula but a subtle love story that isn’t forced into the storyline like the one present in Pearl Harbor but an intricate ingredient to the film’s memorability.
Where 30 Days of Night was more concerned with setting up great scenes comprised of well crafted cinematography with miniscule plot development, Let the Right One In achieves the former but melds it with plot and relationship development between the film’s protagonists. This helped ameliorate the scenes, making them more than just a cinematographic achievement but something substantive to the film’s overall narrative.
Let the Right One In’s main protagonist is Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), an ordinary 12-year-old boy living in Blackeberg, Stockholm who is being picked on by a trio of miscreant classmates. The film’s other main character, who serves the dual role of antagonist and protagonist, is Eli (Lina Leandersson), a female vampire of the outward age of 12. Eli is attended to by a Blade-like “Familiar” named Hakan (Per Ragnar), a middle-age man posing as Eli’s father to outsiders and the curious.
When Oskar and Eli become friends, there are two moments that hint at Eli and Hakan’s true relationship or perhaps their past one. One moment is where Hakan is staring at Eli and Oskar in the snow covered court yard below and the second is when Hakan asks Eli not to see Oskar on a particular night. It’s not patriarchal concern the viewer is witnessing, it’s jealously. Eli recognizes it as well when she touches Hakan’s face reassuringly after he makes his request. It’s only hinted at with no elaboration but its there. Whether this is a replica of their relationship in the book of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist or has been marginalized to avoid a harsher rating is a point left to readers of the novel.
Because of Eli’s actual advanced age, which is never divulged in the film (adding to Eli’s mystery) she’s more than likely been in many adverse situations before and dispenses some much needed advice to Oskar. This is just one of the ways, both obvious and subtle, that Eli acts differently than a girl of her numerical age. She is also not affected by inclement weather and reacts as many supermodels would after consuming food. She is smart and wise beyond her years but not in overt ways. It’s all in her body language and eye movements like those of Claudia (Kristen Dunst) in Interview with a Vampire and Reagan MacNeil (Linda Blair) in The Exorcist.
It is Oskar and Eli and their actors’ performances that carry Let the Right One In along with the film’s minimalist The Thing-like score, its careful camera placement and its exquisite, feral vampire sound effects. While complimented by these and other sounds, a large portion of the horror / vampire aspects of Let the Right One In happen off screen. The viewer usually sees their aftermath, which is shown in such a way that makes up for not seeing the actually acts. Things get very messy in Let the Right One In, in no small part do to the braking of a major vampire movie convention. Eli never bares or shows she possesses fangs of any kind.
And then there is the romance between Oskar and Eli, which might remind a few of Lost in Translation. Oskar and Eli are both vastly different in age as were Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and are brought together by situations almost out of their control. It’s a gentle and sweet courtship between Oskar and Eli, unlike the events that inhabit both of their lives.
Differentiating itself from many horror films released these days, it’s this romance and the characters in Let the Right One In that are the main attraction, not the blood, the gore or the special effects. Examined broadly, this is the direction the new Batmen franchise, especially The Dark Knight, has taken. More substance, less flash.
Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In (Lat den ratte komma in) is a rare horror movie that explores its characters instead of dwelling on the staples of its genre. As in The Host, large segments of Let the Right One In are about the relationship between the protagonists and the situations they find themselves in. The vampire horror in Let the Right One In never takes its place or is allowed to overwhelm the narrative. Because of this, we may be looking at one of the most mature, finest vampire films to date.