In a country where it’s always snowing, 12-year-old Oskar, a boy as pale as the sun, meets an enigmatic girl one night, Eli, with her dark intense gaze. The two couldn’t be more different — he a scared, passive kid on the young side, she a solemn old soul — but they’re both lonely, and they both want to do violence to the people who threaten them, so that brings them together.
As Oskar struggles with bullying at school, he becomes friends with Eli, who solves Rubik’s cubes instantly, but doesn’t remember her birthday. About them swirl two mysteries. First, who is killing young boys around Vallingby, the suburb where the two live, and draining their blood? Second, what kind of creature is Eli, who must be formally invited in and who licks blood drops off the floor?
Of course Eli is a vampire, and of course she is implicated in the killings [though she herself does not commit all of them], but Let The Right One In is no gooshy vampire romance a la Twilight. It’s about silence and terror, the beautiful white sheets of snow that cover frozen bloody bodies. It’s about walls between people, like the division between Oskar and Eli’s apartment through which they send Morse code messages, and the secrets they keep. It’s about the vulnerability of the human body — injured by the bullies who prey on Oskar, ripped apart by Eli in her hungry frenzy — that can so easily be pierced by murder or by tenderness (Eli and Oskar sleeping naked together, caressing in a childlike way).
It’s a movie epitomized by its static, low-sound, ultra-long shots during scenes of Eli hunting or Oskar confronting bullies. Though the distance between the camera and the actors keeps the viewer from experiencing the yells of frustration and splatters of blood, the chill, unswerving, steady way in which the camera takes in the whole scene allows the viewer to register both the predator’s viewpoint and the prey’s. Thus one feels for them both, while experiencing terror from an inescapably god-like omniscience.
Let The Right One In, less a horror film than a drama of silence, rests on the performances by Kare Hedebrant, who plays Oskar, and Lina Leandersson, who plays Eli. Hedebrant plays Oskar as pale and quiet, but also twitchy, crinkling his nose and half-smirking as he enjoys his friendship with Eli. At the same time, there’s also something stolid and dead inside him that offers no resistance when called out.
It’s Eli who kindles his fire; played by Lina Leandersson with the gravitas of someone hundreds of years old and also the big-eyed vulnerability of someone who’s always a child, Eli seems like a small graveyard statue. In her sad, clipped delivery when Oskar tries to talk to her about school and parents, Leandersson’s Eli conveys the burden of inescapable melancholy without overexplaining it as certain vampire movies do. Hedebrant and Leandersson, especially Leandersson, offer nuanced and powerful performances, especially for their young age, making this film a delight in terms of plot, pacing, cinematography and acting. Recommended, especially if you’re tired of Twilight and you need to be reminded that vampire books and movies can sometimes be transcendent.