2008. Directed by Tomas Alfredson. Starring Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson.
Oskar is a sad little kid. Living with his mother, separated from his father, taunted and tortured by classmates, a little too smart and too weird to fit in anywhere. Wintertime in Sweden is a bit on the bleak side too — snow drifting across a black sky, sterile apartment buildings, a quietly unsympathetic school. Then, one night, neighbors move in next door.
He doesn’t really see the neighbors, only the cardboard and posters that now cover their window. He sits outside, watching his breath in the air, sitting on frozen playground equipment, alone. Or so he thinks.
It’s not safe anymore to sit outside. A nearby resident has been found hanging by his feet, his blood drained into a plastic container. There’s a bit of panic in his strained relationship with his mother, but life goes on. The bullies pick on him, whipping him across the face with a stick, soaking his clothes in a urinal. He looks for something positive to hold onto. That’s when he notices the little girl sitting with him in the playground, jacketless, with no shoes.
Let The Right One In is a leisurely but deliberately paced horror film that probably breaks every rule of modern horror filmmaking. And it’s better for it. Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) isn’t happy, at least until he befriends Eli (Lina Leandersson), the sad-looking little girl who “smells funny.” The next time he sees her, after another neighbor goes missing, she looks healthy and asks, “Do I smell better?” They continue their pathetic friendship, learning Morse code in order to tap to each other through their walls. I’m going to hold back on some of the details, because I am jaded when it comes to horror, and it was great to see this movie’s plot unfold, especially the touching and violent ending.
It is also tantalizing what the film leaves unanswered: who is the man living with Eli, and what stake (sorry) is there for him in her survival? What does Eli want from Oskar, if not friendship? And what should we learn from a few transformative views of Eli that Oskar also sees? And, finally, what follows the nice little coda before the credits roll? Because I’d like to watch that movie too.
It would be hard to dream up a new and interesting vampire tale. I thought 30 Days of Night had a lot of promise, with its graphic novel roots and its untraditional villains, but it was about 28 of those nights that ruined it for me. (Four weeks of hiding in an attic? Yawn. And everyone lost their cell phone? OK, enough about that movie.) Let The Right One In has at its heart a sweet tale of empathy and sadness and, despite the body count, is just a sick little love story. Plus, if there was an acting award for cats, this would sweep the category.
When I reviewed Near Dark, I wrote about the sympathy for the vampires who would remain children for the rest of their awful twilight lives. For the children drawn to each other in Let The Right One In, it’s their childish acceptance of the horror in front of them that allows them to escape their awful daytime lives.