After a bit of a dry spell, vampires seem to be back in vogue. Along with a big Hollywood outing in the form of Twilight, we have Let The Right One In from Swedish director Tomas Alfredson. The vampire genre is typically replete with darkness, solitude and an unremitting desire for bloodshed and, although all of these are brought to the table, Alfredson ultimately struggles to define his movie effectively.
Set in the cold, dark, Swedish winter, the movie tells the story of Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) — a wimpish schoolchild who is tormented by cruel bullies — and follows him as he develops a friendship with a strange young girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson), who moves into his apartment building.
All is not what it seems, however. Eli shares the apartment with a man who at first appears to be her father, but soon takes on a more sinister role; her guardian ventures out at night in an attempt to keep Eli supplied with fresh human blood, on which she must feed. It later transpires that Eli is neither young, nor a girl; Eli is actually a castrated boy that has been the same age for ‘a long time’.
The two children meet in the communal garden of their apartment building one snowy evening and form an unlikely friendship, which seems to spring largely out of their mutual loneliness and curiosity. The compassionate portrayal of their burgeoning friendship is touching; Oskar teaches Eli morse code so that they can communicate through knocks on their shared wall at night. Eli eats a chocolate that Oskar gives her, even though she knows it will make her sick.
Despite repeated hints to Oskar from Eli that she might not be all that she seems, Oskar is slow to cotton on. The relationship is not one of equals; for all their ostensible similarities, Oskar — bless his cotton socks — is far from the sharpest tool in the box and is an easy target for bullies even of his own age, let alone one that has stalked the earth for countless centuries. Eli could kill and eat Oskar at any point, but she prefers to keep him on as a friend, possibly because Oskar reminds the vampire of what it used to be; a young, innocent boy.
The cinematography is of such a high standard — and the characters so compelling — that you’ll forgive what might be considered a mash-up of styles.
Lina Leadnersson’s portrayal of Eli as a quiet little ‘girl’ with a dark secret is masterful, particularly for someone so young, perfectly conveying the complex character that is both ashamed at yet enslaved by her compulsion to consume human blood. Resigned to her nocturnal vocation, yet weary with the isolation that comes with it, Eli seems bored with life as a vampire, but is still capable of executing her victims with a chilling ruthlessness.
Let The Right One In, like Eli, has self-image problems. Not quite sure whether it wants to be a dark and edgy character study, a gory horror flick or a cheesy CGI-fest (keep a look out for the incredibly out-of-place scene featuring a bunch of cats, which brings back echos of the Fuddermans in Gremlins), the movie flits between these styles, mostly with ease and panache. The mix of styles sometimes left me wishing it could make up its mind what it wanted to be, particularly during the final scenes. But the cinematography is of such a high standard — and the characters so compelling — that you’ll forgive what might be considered a mash-up of styles. The freezing Swedish winter provides a constant to keep it all on track, as does the darkness and lack of soundtrack that pervades throughout.
This brings me to my main problem with the movie… Oskar. While proficiently acted by Kare Hedebrant, the warbling little blonde boy is pretty hard to root for. He doesn’t do anything wrong as such: he’s trusting and friendly to Eli, he is being unfairly picked on by the other boys at school. The audience should feel sorry for him. It’s a sad fact that some children are bullied at school. But if ever a boy would be picked on, Oskar would be a prime candidate. He’s crying out for a lesson from the school of hard knocks.
One begins to question why a sophisticated kind of vampire like Eli might befriend such a wet blanket. Perhaps she fears that the children that bully Oskar so mercilessly might progress to drinking his blood too; thus depriving her of a meal. Perhaps she simply enjoys having someone so weak and pathetic to stand up for.
Perhaps she is simply grooming a new guardian — someone who will go out and kill on her behalf — but this seems too straightforward. Eli may be living vicariously through Oskar, enjoying seeing him blunder awkwardly through his early adolescent years to remind her of a self that she cannot get back to; another form of vampirism, at the end of the day.
After putting up with Oskar’s trilling dialogue and bumbling scenes, you might find yourself rooting for Eli to use Oskar for her next real feed; probably not the director’s intention. If she spends enough time with him, Eli is bound to realise the only thing they really have in common is a lack of balls.