All right Asheville moviegoers, quite a few of you have complained that Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In—the highly acclaimed Swedish vampire picture—wasn’t playing locally and wasn’t likely to play locally. Well, the Hollywood 14 brings it to town on Friday. That means the ball is in your court. If you want to see this movie—if you want to see more movies like this booked here—get out there and support it. Let the Right One In deserves it.
What a relief—and what a delight—it is to be able to praise a horror film without a string of qualifiers and excuses! Sure, there’ve been a handful of horror pictures in the past few years that deserved a look, but all required caveats about how this or that or the other thing doesn’t work, how a clunky opening has to be overlooked or a lame ending comes close to ruining the movie. There’s no need for that with Let the Right One In. Indeed, this is a horror film—and make no mistake, it is a horror film and an R-rated one at that—that edges its way into the realm of dark fantasy à la Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). If it doesn’t quite enter that realm, that’s no disgrace—very few films do.
Alfredson’s film—adapted from the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay—centers on what happens when a lonely, bullied 12-year-old boy, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), finds a 12-year-old girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson), moving into the apartment next door—in the middle of the night. The twist is that Eli, as she later admits, has been 12 for “a very long time.” She’s a vampire. And the man presented as her father, Hakan (Per Ragnar), is really her familiar—a singularly inept keeper, who is supposed to protect her and provide her with the human blood she needs to exist.
But there’s more—like whether or not Eli is even a girl. After the pair find companionship (largely against Eli’s will: “I can’t be your friend”) and Oskar wants to “go steady,” Eli tells him, “I’m not a girl.” This doesn’t deter Oskar, and for that matter, we’re not sure whether this is meant to convey that Eli is not a girl, but a vampire. The film leaves this somewhat vague (there’s a flash of scarred genitals to bear out the book’s depiction of Eli as a boy who’s been brutally altered). Similarly, the book explains who Hakan is, while the movie merely hints. All in all, I think the decision to leave certain aspects explicitly detailed in the book more open to interpretation works in the film’s favor.
In many ways, Let the Right One In is an achingly sad film about loneliness, and about Oskar and Eli finding respite from that in each other. Is it a romance? It can certainly be read as one—though this is worlds away from the romance novel sap of Twilight. And, it’s a good deal deeper and more disturbing. Oskar isn’t merely lonely. He truly lives a tortured existence—bullied mercilessly at school, neglected at home—and, prior to Eli, keeps himself going by indulging in revenge fantasies on his tormentors. He even has a scrapbook filled with newspaper cuttings of grisly murders, like some warped wish book. In this regard, Eli is as much a logical (if fantastic) step as potential friend and protector. Despite much charm in the depiction of their relationship, it becomes ever more clear that this is a symbiotic arrangement, and that the path it ultimately must take is more bitter than sweet.
It should be made clear that Let the Right One In—for all its deeper implications—never forgets that it is a horror movie. There may be no play with crucifixes (religion, in fact, never enters the story) and the standard trappings of the genre, but it is a vampire movie. It adheres to many of the basic laws of vampire folklore. Eli subsists on human blood; the bite of the vampire infects the victim; daylight means destruction etc. Even the film’s title is grounded in the myth that a vampire must be invited to enter a house before it can cross the threshold. (I can recall of no film prior to this, however, that deals with what happens if that rule isn’t adhered to.) The vampire acts are savage and blood flows pretty freely. There’s nothing namby-pamby going on here. It’s simply that there’s a lot more going on than in your standard horror flick, making it more unsettlingly horrific, not less so.
Brilliantly made—and with moments of very real sadness and genuine charm—Let the Right One In is that rare horror movie that stands apart from the crop and shows the rest of the moviegoing world that not all genre efforts are rubbish. Here is proof—if proof is needed—that the genre can be, and sometimes is, just as valid as any other. Rated R for some bloody violence, including disturbing images, brief nudity and language.