The wonderful Swedish film Let The Right One In (Låt Den Rätte Komma In) introduces us to Oskar, an alert and engaging 12 year-old who smiles easily and has an admirably boyish self-possession. He lives in a small apartment complex with his divorced mom, in a small town, and seems to be friendless. Nothing’s really wrong with him. Some of it, understandably, is the natural defensive distance that can be typical for kids of divorced parents. His Mom loves him, but works too much, and is overcompensatingly protective when she is home. His Dad, who lives in the country, loves him, but ignores him when his adult friends come to hang out. His long blond hair, pale skin and general shyness might strike one as effeminate – it apparently makes him a target for bullies. He tends to internalize this, which is also typical – makes excuses to Mom for marks on his face, walks home bare-legged when his clothes are messed up after gym. He has the usual daydream-ish revenge fantasies – he actually starts working out after school. We feel bad for him in that tough-breaks way, but we know he’s a good kid who isn’t inclined to do anything genuinely selfish or stupid. We just hope he catches a good break or two along the way, because we trust he’ll do the right thing by that.
Oskar has some new neighbors in the building, a man and a girl. He meets the girl one night in the common backyard playground, and, despite her early admonition that she can never be his friend, they get along well, recognizing each others isolation. Oskar also develops a fascination with a series of violent crimes that have begun to crop up in the area – random murders and mutilations. He starts a scrapbook of news clippings about them. As his friendship with the new girl, Eli, progresses, he can’t help but notice that he only sees her at night, the cold doesn’t affect her, she has no idea when her birthday is, and she never eats. A small piece of candy makes her retchingly sick.
So, OK, you’re onto it. Eli’s a vampire. The man may be her father, or he may simply be the servant of her hungers – he’s responsible for the local murders. He provides her with blood so she won’t risk hunting on her own. But we, the audience, learn these revelations pretty early on. It’s not really what the movie is about. It’s about the love and friendship of these two kids, and what they make of the friendship in the face of their own hardships and extraordinary moral conflicts.
Let me assure you that this isn’t any kind of easy-way-past the general darkness and psychological discomfort that the film establishes early on. Their friendship doesn’t become some kind of ray-of-sunshine in their otherwise problematic existences. In fact, the film gets darker, more violent, and more disturbing in direct proportion to their growing love and regard for each other. And yet each of them, resolutely, stays true to themselves. She’s not redeemed, he’s not corrupted.
Whenever I see a movie like this, that’s just so good it knocks my goddamn socks off, I, like most, I suppose, immediately start making comparisons. Noteworthy kids love-and-friendship movies – Stand By Me, My Life As A Dog, Forbidden Games, Fanny and Alexander, etc… nope, this one may be better. Noteworthy vampire movies – Martin, Near Dark, Omega Man, The Hunger, Lifeforce, etc… nope, this one may be better. (And ‘Martin’s been #1 for me since 1978.)
The best kids-growing-into-emotion movies take the kids’ world, their experiences and relationships, as THE world – they don’t use the larger adult world for qualification or scale. In fact, the larger adult world is often seen as a place they never want to go, and their inevitable growing up becomes a kind of necessary tragedy – loss of innocence, sadder but wiser, blah blah blah. I’ve thought about Oskar and Eli’s friendship, as regards the ending of this film, for days now, and I can’t wait for this film to hit theaters next week so I can compare notes with others.
The best vampire movies take the traditional basics of the genre and put them into new and novel contexts. And director Tomas Alfredson and screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist (apparently, this is his novel) work both the traditions and the innovations splendidly. They know their John Carpenter AND their Val Lewton inside and out. And this is a seriously scary movie, trust me. Not jump-out-at-you-from-nowhere scary, but I-see-this-coming-and-its-inevitable-and-there’s-nothing-to-be-done-but-watch scary. Hitchcockian scary. Good Stephan King scary.
It’s Swedish. There are subtitles. It may not play at a theater near you, but it’s worth the drive. It’s the best film I’ve seen all year, and you’ll be very happy you hopped into the car and saw it on the big screen. The DVD is months and months away. Go.
Wildly, enthusiastically recommended. I’m tugging on your shirtsleeve through your monitor. Do NOT bring your kids, but you should rearrange your schedule, the babysitter’s worth it. Go.