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:: Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in)

Ever since I convinced my mother to sneak me in to Interview With A Vampire when I was twelve, I’ve been enthralled by vampires. Every aspect of them - the secret society, the debauchery, the smouldering sexuality, the superpowers. Perhaps what struck me the most about Interview was the pathos of Claudia, the child vampire played so memorably by a young Kirsten Dunst. Who could forget those bright eyes after her first taste of blood? Then the chilling line, delivered in a whisper, “I want some more!”

Child vampires represent the cruellest betrayal of innocence. They are Peter Pans from Hell whose creation transgresses even the vampire code of ethics. This is what makes the poor creatures so interesting and it is certainly what makes Swedish director Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In such a fresh, tender and moving addition to the vampire genre.

The film opens with Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a scrawny, elfish, boy, inciting an imaginary foe to “scream” and “squeal like a pig”. It soon becomes apparent that he is enacting the daily torment he suffers at the hands of a gang of merciless school bullies.

Oskar’s life is as bleak as the relentless winter which has descended on Stockholm, the city where he lives. His mother is a dim shadow in his life and his father lives in a distant town. He is a lonely boy with a penchant for puzzles and, more alarmingly, an obsession with collecting reports of violent crime from local newspapers.

Life brightens up significantly for Oskar when Eli (Lina Leandersson) moves into his cement bunker of an apartment block. Eli is a dark-haired urchin of a girl who doesn’t feel the cold because, curiously, she’s “forgotten how”. Either that or she’s actually a vampire!

Let the Right One In is not your average, run of the mill horror flick. It is a tender and poetic film which focuses on the relationship between the prepubescent boy and the vampire girl who has been twelve “for a very long time”.

Reflecting on the vampires of recent pop cultural history, it appears that a new trend has emerged. We want our vamps to be weighed down with a conscience. We want them wrestling with an inner demon that all too often becomes an outer one. The early 21st century has brought us Angel, a vampire with a soul who seeks redemption; Edward Cullen, a vamp who eschews human for animal blood and most recently, the vampires of HBO’s True Blood, who live among us and drink synthetic blood.

Eli is a vampire cast in this contemporary, ahem, vein. She is pragmatic about her need to feed, even enlisting the help of her “Dad”, a hapless human killer, to do her dirty work. She tells Oskar that the only difference between him and her is motivation; if he could, he would kill the boys who bully him to obtain vengeance, whereas she would kill them out of necessity. When she is forced to kill with her own two fangs, Eli cries tears of sadness and remorse. In many ways, she is more human than the human boys who make Oskar’s life such a misery.

There are a lot of unanswered questions around Eli and this makes her a stronger character. We don’t know her true age, how or where she was “sired” or how she found the strange killer she uses as a cover. As far as vampire abilities go, she can fly and move at a supernatural speed. Like most vamps, she’s allergic to sunlight, but she sleeps in a bath, rather than a coffin, during the day.

As well as being the slightly corrupted name of a Morrissey song, the title of the film, Let the Right One In, alludes to the various binaries which the film deals with, both literal and metaphoric. Of course, when it comes to vampire lore, everyone knows that a vampire needs to be invited in to a private dwelling. Here, it’s the use of the word “right” that leads us to meditate on who, or what, is more deserving of being accepted as members of society. From the literal binaries of in or out, we have the film’s metaphorical binaries; life/death, isolation/inclusion and, at the warm heart of the film, innocence/experience.

As his plastic Smurfs and toy cars attest, Oskar is still a boy in many ways. Yet it is ultimately his child-like curiosity and unconditional acceptance which solidify his relationship with Eli. His fumbling attempts to win her affections are sweeter and more moving than any dross concocted by Stephanie Meyer. He buys her lollies, which she politely tastes but immediately throws up, he cuddles her as though she is an oversized teddy bear and he asks her if she wants to “go steady”. Throughout the film, Eli must negotiate her growing feelings for Oskar with the growing threat of exposure. This makes for surprising and effective plot twists.

At times, the snow in Blackeberg, Stockholm plays havoc with the continuity of the film. The audience is left a little confused, wondering “Is it spring yet? I thought that tree was greening up. How much time has passed? Is there any hope for these kids?” However, ultimately, the use of snow is so effective and so symbolic that it almost acts as another character in the film. It has the power to conceal, it is pure and white and it is, of course, cold like the grave. I found myself fantasising about Let the Right One In being remade by the Japanese, as they are the only other culture that would understand the poetic beauty and fragility in the film.

Like all good horror films, Let the Right One In is at its best when it is operating on the “less is more” principle of a good scare. Interestingly, on the occasions when the horror is revealed, be it spontaneous combustion, dismemberment or disfigurement, it is played for laughs rather than the fear factor.

This film deserves all of the accolades it has received thus far. You must check it out on the big screen. A firm $16 dollars worth from me!