Let the Right One In
[originally published October 17, 2010
A little girl is sugar and spice and everything nice – especially when she’s taking a nap.
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Novel and screenplay: John Ajvide Lindqvist
In the cast: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl.
Let the Right One In or Låt den Rätte Komma In is a 2008 critical favourite from Sweden which uber-grossed me out. I usually like my vampires campy, cartoony and unreal. I think that I am freaked by the notion of child vampires. Eeeeesh. Yeah, it was too real for me but fabulous.
Plot: Oscar, an overlooked and bullied boy, finds love and revenge through Eli, a beautiful but peculiar girl who turns out to be a vampire.
Oskar is a loner, gets bullied, has body issues and learns Morse-Code. Eli is mysterious, teaches Oskar to stand up for himself and triumphantly figures out a Rubik’s Cube. I think they are a great match. They communicate in Morse-Code through an adjoining apartment wall. Very romantic and practical. The idea of a secret language is intriguing. The way that they communicate has to be different because their being together is different – amazing!
Grade school can be a prison to many so here we have a way to combat terror with terror. The fact that Eli is a vampire almost feels incidental but this fact allows her to protect Oskar. In an interview Leandersson said, “The most important, I think, is to tell their parents and teachers. Fight and never listen to what the mob says. They only feel more powerful. The mob are really nothing, they are just cowardly and afraid inside. But you have to talk to your parents. You need support and assistance.”
The pool scene at the end proves that Eli wants to protect Oskar. Despite some very grown-up themes there is a sweet, innocent quality to their relationship. Maybe that’s what creeped me out – innocence combined with gore. The writer, John Ajvide Lindqvist said, “Children are something that we want to take care of and protect, and they are not supposed to be put through anything nasty. But when they are, it becomes so much more unpleasant.”
The film does not focus on how Eli was made, when she was made, how old she is, or on her relationship with her guardian – who lives with her and who kills for her. The issue of pedophilia is omitted in the film but exists in the novel. The film is about ‘the now’ and focuses on the relationship between Eli and Oskar.
The novel presents Eli as an androgynous boy, castrated centuries before by a sadistic vampire nobleman. The film handles the issue of Eli’s gender more ambiguously: a brief scene in which Eli changes into a dress offers a glimpse of a suggestive scar but no explicit elaboration. A female actress plays Eli’s character, but Eli tries to tell Oskar “I’m not a girl” when Oskar asks that Eli be his girlfriend.
The ambiguous nature of sexuality is not dealt with in the film but it is extremely suggestive.
They are frozen in time in many ways. A very interesting mirror to this aspect is the setting. The film is set in the winter – there is ice everywhere. This setting enables loads of information. For instance, when we first meet Eli, she is not wearing a coat, outside, in winter.
Director Tomas Alfredson said, “I’ve been doing film and television for twenty years and this is the first time I’ve gotten into the horror business, and the true horror for me as a filmmaker was to create this supernatural story in this very naturalistic and everyday environment. For me, the key into this film was to omit as much as possible of the graphic details concerning the most fantastic details of vampirism, and in the opposite cases where we do show it, I wanted it to be as dull, dry and skimpy as possible.”
The contrast of red blood on white snow is stunning. A body of one of Eli’s murder victims is frozen in ice. A group on a skating outing discovers him. The darkness and cold reflects Eli’s state of being. When one of her victims is accidentally ‘turned’ and bursts into flames – we understand that sunshine and warmth is death for vampires. There is starkness to the setting, cold isolation. Brrrr.
Vampires have an established literary and filmic tradition. Vampire-horror is a secure genre. Most of us know that vampires live on blood, hate sunlight and need a verbal invitation to go inside a dwelling. This film assumes we know all of that but is unique in showing us what happens to a vampire who ‘goes in’ uninvited.
You know, I reviewed Twilight: Eclipse. Even though both films are about vampires the comparison ends there. Also, an American version of Let the Right One In called Let Me In (2010) has been made. Of course I’ll see it, with an open-mind, but I really want to say, “why bother?”
I used to be addicted to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series on TV. I’d still be a huge fan because of how it sends up teenage experience and how it camps up the mystical. It is more like reading a comic book than this film which simulates real life. In my Twilight: Eclipse review I say, “The vampire metaphor for alienation, isolation, eternal youth and beauty continues to fascinate me.” This film reinforces that sentiment.
There is a feline theme here. Usually, when cats are extremely happy they make a rumbling/purring sound. However this sound is associated with Eli whenever she is agitated or acting vampire-esque. The woman she accidentally ‘turns’ is viciously attacked by many cats. Eli is hissed at and growled at by a cat in a store. When Eli tells Oskar that she is not a girl, there is a lot more meaning than gender here. She is far from human and cats may sense this.
Critic, Peter Howell says, “The more you think about this movie, the more it seeps into the darkest corners of your mind, as all great horror must.”
This was probably the best film I’ve seen in years. Gross, real, and very, very good.
Romy Shiller is a pop culture critic and holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Toronto. Her academic areas of concentration include film, gender performance, camp and critical thought. She lives in Montreal where she continues her writing. All books are available online