I had barely heard anything about this film when I saw it. Except that it was a Swedish vampire movie. Well, alright. But then a friend breathlessly told me that she heard it was getting excellent buzz. Hmmm. But still I did not expect Let the Right One In. I did not expect a movie so quiet, so cold, and so lonely. I didn’t expect a film about lonely 12-year-olds pining for friendship in wintry suburbs. And I didn’t expect the occasional flashes of violence that were all the more startling because of the cold silence.
Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a transparent boy. He is so pale that his skin is bluish white, like the snow, and he has a mop of white-blond hair to match. But he is also transparent to others. His divorced parents don’t have much time for him. He doesn’t have any friends. And a pack of bullies at school torment him both verbally and physically. Oskar is lonely, and—unsurprisingly—angry. He has a knife that he fanaticizes about using, but probably never will. He’s not a bad kid. He just needs to connect with someone.
That someone moves in next door. He meets Eli (Lina Leandersson) outside in the snowy play area of their massive apartment complex one night. Oskar often sits there in his isolation playing with a Rubik’s Cube, or coming up with revenge fantasies. Eli is also 12 (“more or less”), has a strange tendency of not wearing shoes in the snow, and, well, she kind of smells. But she seems nice. Oskar has found a friend. Even if she is a friend that he only sees in the evening.
But this new friend also has her own life. A couple of the neighbors meet violent, bloody ends, due to Eli’s insatiable thirst, and her own need to survive. There is never any question for the audience that Eli is a vampire, but it takes besotted Oskar a little longer to figure this out about his new friend. “Do you want to go steady?” he asks her hopefully. The kids that play Oskar and Eli are both so good (especially Lina Leandersson as the heartbreakingly sad and old-souled vampire who is forever a child) that you desperately want Eli to say yes. Even though you know that it is kind of not right. At all.
My friend that accompanied me to the screening of Let the Right One In left the film with a severe case of the heebie-jeebies. This is not a horror movie in the sense of screeching violins and jump-out-of-your-seat frights. It is really a quiet, sad drama about two lonely children (well, at least one of them is 12… the other has “been 12 for a long time”) who connect and find companionship in a world that really doesn’t like them much. It felt melancholy to me, disturbing to others, and even hopeful to others that I heard discussing the film later. Let the Right One In is unexpected, and it is bound to stick in your craw no matter how you respond to its quiet storytelling.