Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In is a film difficult to summarize not because of its content but because of the way Alfredson handles that content. The story of a vampire befriending a twelve year old boy, a very bloody story of a vampire befriending a twelve year old boy, you’d think it would be easy to categorize and file away but it is not. Why? Because while Alfredson is certainly not shy in indulging in graphic imagery and laying on the blood this is not a film about the blood itself, it is not driven by the need to get from one gore scene to the next, instead being far more concerned with the budding relationship between its two young leads.
Oskar is twelve, a shy and introverted young boy, the product of a failed marriage, bullied mercilessly by a trio of his stronger classmates. They are vicious and unrelenting in their attacks but Oskar never retaliates, instead retreating into violent fantasies of one day cutting the bullies down. Oskar seems to have no friends whatsoever until one day a strange girl moves in to the apartment next door.
Eli is distant, verging on antisocial. She never appears during daylight hours, only coming outside to talk to Oskar in the evening time, regularly wandering out into the snow barefoot and wearing only thin indoor shirts and pants. But she never complains of the cold. She is unusual, strange even, but she talks to Oskar, even encourages him to find strength within himself to stand up to the bullying at school. And so the two strike up an unlikely friendship.
When asked Eli tells Oskar that she is twelve. More or less. Confirming later, only after Oskar has figured out the truth for himself, that she has been twelve for a very long time. Eli is a vampire, the man she lives with – who everyone had assumed was her father – her human helper, responsible for keeping her hidden while also well supplied with blood, an appetite which cannot go long unnoticed in a small community …
As Oskar and Eli’s relationship grows so too do the consequences of her most basic nature. The bodies are piling up and the search is on for a culprit. She must be careful but what to do when her helper is discovered at his work? And what is Oskar to do when his new found confidence against the school bullies leads to violence from the leader’s elder brother?
Make no mistake about it. As Let The Right One In progresses it becomes significantly more bloody. The film may take a slow burn approach but burn it does and it is simply loaded with shocking, haunting imagery. There are moments here that are truly iconic, that you will carry with you long after the final frame but the film is also so loaded with a quiet sort of poetry, so resolutely focused on the relationships rather than the actions that I hesitate to call it a horror film. While Eli and her helper certainly carry out some graphically horrific acts the camera never leers in at them, it simply presents them as they are and moves along, an approach that makes things simultaneously more shocking and less exploitative. The film is beautifully shot and anchored by very strong performances from its young leads and stands quite easily as the most compelling new entry into vampire mythos in … well, as long as I can remember. An exceptional piece of work, Let The Right One In comes with the highest possible recommendation.