Let the Right One In (2008)
Reviewed by Nomad
Starring Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Henrik Dahl
Directed by Tomas Alfredson
Mainstream film tends to go right for the jugular. An action sequence or ten, a touch of sex, and a bulletproof resolution are the ingredients for a happy, theater-going American. At times an independent makes its way onto a stray screen here and there, providing us with a quirkier view of the world, at times a quieter pace, perhaps a more artistic painting of the landscape, and every once in a while an odd, uneasy tone unraveling more like a fairy tale. Let The Right One In is one such film, standing before you like an innocent, wide-eyed child. At first it is kind of cute, but after a time the child is still staring. Cute gives way to eerie, and a chill shoots up your back. And still ... the child stares.
Oskar is a little boy who doesn’t quite fit in. He’s not odd-looking or short or any of a dozen things kids would pick on him for. Oskar is just a little lost in his own world, alienating him from the other children and making him a favorite target for the school bully and his cronies. Like many children, Oskar wishes he were more invisible so they would pass him over. Unlike many children, Oskar fantasizes about exacting his bloody revenge.
A young girl moves into Oskar’s apartment complex, and immediately things seem a little out of the ordinary. The pair strike an uneasy friendship, and the clock begins to tick loudly, as in this world, even in a place so far from America as the setting for our tale, things that don’t fit in with polite, normal society are cast out. Even more so if the anomaly has a taste for human blood.
Let the Right One In moves beyond typical movie conventions on two primary levels, both of which focus on our personal comfort level. The first is with the relationship between Oskar and the ethereal Eli. I suppose there is an age at which children begin to feel things for the opposite sex, and perhaps that leads to contact, but this is something we are not accustomed to watching, much less discussing. We are told an adult thinking about kids connecting on a level beyond friendship is dirty so the subject becomes taboo, at least where the adult contemplation is concerned. Funny point, huh? It is not long before Oskar’s relationship with Eli veers into uncomfortable territory, and silent moments become more about what is left unsaid. This unease is heightened by the fact that Eli is an immortal vampire, at least by our own preconceptions about vampire lore.
This film doesn’t spend much time teaching us the rules of vampirism according to their world. Things are suggested through lingering looks and bits of conversation that move one way but allude to an unfolding story underneath. Now, knowing Eli is a vampire, we realize there is more behind her eyes than a child’s crush, but we can’t hope to comprehend the knowledge coloring her feelings. Does she have a mind surpassing that of a full grown adult, times 5, locked in that frail looking body? Does a child made vampire retain the feelings of that child through all eternity, moving from place to place, seeing the world for untold numbers of years but reacting to it all as a child? The answer could take you down a seriously disturbing road and heighten your apprehension so much more. Also, with the vampire angle, we are left with the glaring prospect that soon enough, Oskar will find out what Eli has to do to survive. Then we will see if his affection transcends the horror ... and we’ll also find out if his own fantasies, now seeming so within his grasp, will be realized in some way. It is this tension that dominates the film, overshadowing every moment shared by Oskar and Eli. How much has one truly touched the life of the other, and how will that connection taint their reactions? The answers to these questions are beautiful and terrifying all at once.
Let the Right One In is less a horror film and more a Gothic fairy tale. A snowy white landscape acts as canvas upon which is laid out images of terror you feel deep within your chest. A breath seen against the chill air, the crunch of boots on icy ground --all are delicate notes meant to lull you into a dream-like trance until that violent interlude. Keep in mind, though, that we are following a story and are to be taken elsewhere on occasion. Those moments when we step away from Oskar and Eli, and both together, are the most awkward for the film. These times, with moments of shoddy CGI, are forgettable yet forgivable in contrast to what is otherwise a terrible, beautiful nightmare. The cruelest of bedtime stories told through the eyes of a child. Let the Right One In is a stark reminder that no matter how dark your life seems, there may be a blacker thing just beyond your front steps. It is at this time that you can step back and shut the door ... or embrace the darkness. Polite society says there are lines we do not cross, but for the sake of love, what is any man or woman -- or child -- capable of?
4 out of 5