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Let the Right One In

Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is a minimalist vampire movie that honors both the tale’s mythic origins and the value of originality and storytelling. What stops it from coming full circle lies not so much in its construction but in restrictions established by the genre itself.


“Squeal! Squeal like a pig!” These are the movie's first words, and We meet the speaker, Oskar (Kare Hedebrent), a pale, slight boy with a mop of bleach blonde hair. “Fragile” is the first word that comes to mind; it would seem that a touch could dissipate this wisp of a boy into thin air. Oskar is facing the window, and he has a knife in hand, one he uses to threaten an invisible nemesis. We find out later that he is constantly harassed by a trio of malevolent peers, and that that knife is meant for them. The bullying is mean-spirited and cruel, disturbing because of the naivety of the adolescent mind. There is shoving, name-calling, and occasionally hitting (note an unsettling stick-whipping scene), and Oskar is reduced to an introverted outcast, a boy dwelling in deep insecurity and the dangerous abyss of the mind.


As he stands at the window, a car pulls up. A man in glasses and a coat steps out and opens the door for a young girl who looks to be about his age. They move in next door to his apartment, and through the walls, Oskar hears the girl request that the windows be blocked. He does not think much of this, and he meets the girl one night outside in the yard. Her name is Eli (Lina Leandersson), and she is also pale and smells a bit funny. It is clear that Oskar desperately needs a friend, but Eli is hesitant. As their budding friendship slowly edges underway, a series of gruesome deaths occur around town...


There exists a dramatic irony whenever one views a contemporary vampire picture. We know more or less how the story will turn out. Almost all if not all vampire-themed pictures out there involve either 1) A ravenous thirst for blood (which is a given) 2) the scorching effect of sunlight or 3) the power of mystical objects/enchantments, or any combination of the three. Derivations are pervasive, but in the end, a vampire movie is a vampire movie.


What makes Let the Right One In such a unique film is its narrative tact. As we glance knowingly at one another across multiple scenes, reveling in that dramatic irony, the movie is careful not to stoop into predictability. Indeed, Eli is not your by-the-book blood fiend. In the film, her thirst for blood comes naturally to her. To survive, she needs the blood. Let the Right One In becomes a vampire movie rooted in Darwinian ideologies. Eli, like any other organism, is keen on surviving. Her predatory adaptations are of the gung-ho-vampire-flick variety, but the movie shies away from action. In her wilderness, she is at the top of the food chain. Inconveniently, she also has the ability to become attached to people, much in the same way a human being might become attached to a cow a.k.a. a prospective hamburger (to put it crudely).


The film's other forte lies in a delicate but steady balance between its horror persona and its dramatic progression. Yes, it has its share of scares, from macabre carnage to heavily-shadowed violence, all designed and photographed in such a way as to achieve an chilly grittiness. There is neither gloss nor flashy computer graphics in sight. The horror is grim, perfect for a grim movie. However, despite Eli’s fearsome alter ego, which is a thrill to fright away from, the emotional connection between her and Oskar is what rivets our attention. When Oskar comes to the conclusion that Eli is indeed a vampire of sorts, he is curious, not frightened. The friendship is beautiful, two outcasts finding love in a lonely world.












It is when Eli imposes a primal psychology onto Oskar, a “kill or be killed” mindset, that the movie darkens. Oskar begins to gain confidence, and his daily tormentors begin to look less intimidating. The indefinite moral code of this movie is fascinating. While we root for Oskar’s gained assurance, we are uneasy about its origins. What’s more, Oskar has Eli on his side. With her preternatural abilities, Eli is stronger than Oskar, and their bond of friendship won’t let her stand by and watch him suffer. You can guess how it plays out. There are scenes that engage on a visceral level but perturb on an emotional one. The problem arises when the poetic justice is mitigated by Eli’s garish excesses: was all this really justified, and was it necessary?


Ultimately, Let the Right One In emerges not as a horror film but as a tragedy, a genre rendition of Romeo and Juliet. The ending shot glows with a surface optimism, but the film does not explain how Oskar and Eli can live together, what became of the bodies they left behind and whether or not Eli will kill again. There is an inherent enigma in vampire movies that goes unanswered, and that is the question of coexistence. How is it possible when we are the vampires’ sole food source? Regardless of any extent of love, people will have to die to satisfy Eli’s hunger. For anyone with a moral compass, befriending Eli creates a paradoxical relationship, one where her life is weighed against the countless lives of those that have to die to keep her alive. Hence, the tragedy of this unfortunate love is perpetuated by the nature of the subgenre, and in the end, any hopes for Oskar and Eli are cast to the wind, empty optimism cursed by that one maddening convention of the vampire tale.



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