Released 2009. Director: Tomas Alfredson
“SQUEAL! YOU LITTLE PIG. SQUEAL!” 12-YEAR-OLD OSKAR stabs a tree with a knife, imagining himself taking revenge on his bully. Pretending he’s a bully himself is the closest Oskar comes to fighting back against the boys who regularly torment and taunt him at school. If school life was a living hell for Oskar, think what it’d become when a vampire moves into his apartment building.
The recent revival of the vampire genre in movies has brought into spotlight a little gem that lacks the million-dollar marketing push of similar but inferior Hollywood productions. Let The Right One In came and went quietly at the cinemas and few people saw it. If you understand Swedish or don’t mind subtitles, seek out this movie, a haunting and incredibly moving story about two young people who become friends. Actually, best to do it before the Hollywood remake entitled Let Me In is released in cinemas late 2010.
Should you be familiar with vampire lores, you’ll know that these creatures of the night cannot enter any house unless invited. The same idea is here extended to friendship - it is something offered from one to another, and reciprocated.
The first time Oskar meets Eli, they are outside their apartment block at night, in the snow. Eli is quiet, even peculiar, and definitely unlike other girls. Oskar is drawn to this strange girl with sad eyes. They are both loners, friendless, outsiders, awkward, longing for acceptance. But Eli has a dark secret.
“I’ve been 12 for a long time,” says Eli. To the credit of Lina Leandersson’s empathetic performance and director Tomas Alfredson’s creation of a confiding atmosphere in shadowy, spectral beauty, a simple line of information becomes a moment of trust and sorrow. In fleeting moments of half-light and hushed angry tones, we see the face and hear the voice of an old woman. How long has Eli been condemned to live the life of the undead, shunning daylight forever?
There is an elderly man who lives with Eli. He’s the one who carries out the gruesome task of murder to bring Eli the human blood she needs to stay alive. Yet age has caught on and he’s unable to provide for Eli like he used to. There are hints that the man may have known Eli when he was a young boy, much like Oskar. A life-long relationship comes to a sacrificial end when the man offers his own blood to Eli as a meal. Life, death and devotion, framed in a moment more of liberation than horror.
Is Eli looking for a new friend and companion, or is she making use of Oskar as her next provider? Does it matter? Isn’t there give-and-take in any friendship? Eli gives Oskar courage to stand up against the sadists at school. Oskar saves Eli when someone tries to put a stake through her heart. When Oskar thinks that Eli has gone away, she’s watching at a distance and rescues him from certain death when schoolyard bullying escalates into a life-threatening situation.
That’s when true craftsmanship comes into focus. There’s none of the quick cuts and nerve-jangling sound effects intended to provide cheap scares and make you jump. Instead, a dash of gore is skilfully conveyed. The camera doesn’t move in this quietly horrific scene of revenge at the school swimming pool.
You’re looking from inside the pool, in the water, as legs are dragged across its surface, blood dribbles, and something shocking drops in the water which I won’t say what. Moments like these reflect Tomas Alfredson’s directing finesse and his intuition for drama and impact without over-relying on his computer.
Ultimately, beyond the blood-sucking and killing, it’s the relationship between Oskar and Eli that gives the movie its emotional anchor. Moment by moment, you see how far they are willing to go for each other. They share a bond which has gone beyond normal childhood friendship. Their unspoken understanding and acceptance runs deeper than blood. Lonely souls, kindred spirits, their survival will hinge entirely on their companionship for each other.
Although the story centres on two 12-year-olds, I wouldn’t recommend this movie for young children. Let The Right One In is not the kind of dark tale featuring witchcraft, magic potions and kids flying on broomsticks playing Quidditch. The physical and psychological effects of schoolyard bullying and taunting. The blood-letting and dismemberment. The juxtaposition of bad things done by children is enough to make you pause and ponder. Is one form of assault and violence necessarily worse than the other? Juveniles committing fatal crimes and the death of innocence; the kind of brutality some children seem to be capable of – it’s what makes a story like this all the more disturbing to contemplate.