Let the Right One in

Release date: October 24, 2008

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl, Karin Bergquist, Peter Carlberg, Ika Nord and Mikael Rahm

Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a 12-year-old boy living in the Stockholm suburbs who seems to be a prime candidate for therapy. His parents are divorced, he's constantly bullied at school by a gang of creeps and he spends his free time in his room clipping news articles about murder and acting out fantasies of slicing his school bullies.

One day, a 12-year-old girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) moves into the apartment next to oskar's with a man, Hakan (Per Ragnar), who looks like he his her father. She's an odd girl coming out only at night and seemingly unaffected by the cold -- but Oskar is interested in her. Eli is apprehensive to befriend him, but they soon bond over their childlike fascination with Rubik's Cubes (the story being set in 1982) and Morse code, the latter of which they use to communicate through their shared bedroom wall.

Their bond grows into a symbiotic one. Eli helps Oskar with his bully problems, telling him to stick up for himself and "hit back" (which he does), while Oskar provides Eli with a sense of humanity. He teaches her about customs like "going steady" and helps her blend in by dressing better and learning do something about her nasty body odor. She's excited about fitting in, going so far as to eat hard candy that Oskar gives her, even though it makes her sick. It is during one of Oskar's customs -- making a blood oath that Eli's secret comes out: she's a vampire, and the deaths around town have been because of her and her human companion. At first taken aback, Oskar comes to accept Eli's "condition," and the two grow even closer. One night, Eli even sleeps naked in his bed, although it's all seemingly innocent.

Their friendship is threatened though, after Eli is seen killing a man. One of the victim's friends decides to seek out the little girl responsible (They don't go to the police, for fear of sounding crazy.). Things go from bad to even worse when Eli bites the wife of the man hunting her, turning the woman a vampire and getting the hunter even angrier. Oskar meanwhile has his own battles to fight when the bullies he "hit back" return with a vengeance.

Let the Right One In is sort of like the arthouse (and much better version) of Twilight. Although there's a sweetness to the central adolescent relationship, vampirism is shown in a very unromantic light. Eli is always plagued with an insatiable hunger, the kills are labor-intensive and frequently go awry and Eli and her human live a poor, nomadic lifestyle in a not too cozy apartment. The horror and gore elements are certainly in the film enough to give it an R rating -- but they're presented in a matter-of-fact, and at times even comedic manner, downplaying any typical horror movie sensationalism.

Oskar and Eli's bond is one of the most interesting in movie love stories, one that touches upon the pains of adolescence, the morality of violence, the strength instilled by companionship and the desire for humanity. Although they deal with seriously deadly problems, they still see the world with a childlike innocence -- Oskar for being a 12 year old and Eli from having had little interaction with people. There's actually an added dimension to their relationship, one that's discussed in detail if you read John Ajvide's book (I would recommend that you did, it is a very good book) but is sadly only hinted at in the film.

Tomas Alfredson, a TV director from Sweden, steers the movie with grace, taking advantage of the gray winter setting to portray the stark early '80s surroundings of a lower working class neighborhood stuck in a dreary routine that's shattered by the outbreak of violence. Let the Right One In is Alfredson's first horror movie, and as such, the movie's tone is more dramatic than horrific -- and rightly so.

It's not a perfect movie, though. The plot in the final third bends, and Oskar frustratingly seems to forget the lessons that Eli taught him about defending himself when it comes time for the ending battle with the bullies. There's also not a lot of acknowledgement of the moral dilemma of killing innocent people, and the film has that oft-annoying "arthouse ambiguity" that leaves you to figure out for yourself what just happened and how things will end. Still, while it doesn't reach its full potential, Let the Right One In remains an impressive, strikingly original expansion of the vampire movie theme.

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