Let The Right One In
Released in 2008, the Swedish film Let the Right One In is arguably the best vampire film of the 21st century. Its director Tomas Alfredson went on to make smoldering spy thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in 2011 and the current crime thriller The Snowman. Alfredson’s projects are similar but still unique, and I think we can see in each of the films coming after Let the Right One In elements and techniques beholden to it.
What makes this film work is it’s a children’s story, a friendship that blooms out of bullying and shared fragility. Oskar is tepid 12 year old who seems to utterly disassociate from the world when his fellow schoolboys torment him. However, there is a violence just under the surface with Oskar seeming to want to emerge but that he doesn’t know yet how to let out. Enter Eli and her elderly ‘father’ Hakan. The two arrive to Oskar’s town, and we soon see Hakan engage in a series of botched murders. Yet it’s clear Hakan has been doing this kind of murder for some time; it’s just that he’s gotten too old to successfully acquit himself in the bloodletting of his victims. There is no moment where we have to guess or piece together what is happening. Hakan is harvesting blood for child-vampire Eli. The actress Lina Leandersson does a wonderful job of conveying both a kind of bored childlike wonder and a vicious amorality.
Soon, Eli and Oskar become more and more entwined. But Oskar is unable to make the final move towards embracing Eli’s nature until she saves his life from bullies by taking theirs. She does so in a climatic scene that is terrifying, satisfying, but only obliquely bloody. The genius of the film is the elliptic way it presents the violence, the blood, of the vampire story. It is something banal, mundanely horrid, that Eli and Hakan (and later Oskar) must endure. Few films have held so closely to the vampire myth while providing us with a fresh story that’s serious yet tender.
A deeply satisfying, revitalizing vampire tale.