This one’s about childhood, so it’s weird and bloody. When most adults think of childhood they’re thinking of some kid on TV. But TV kids always act as though someone’s watching. There’s a big difference between Ashley and Mary-Kate and who you were when you were a kid. Real kids tend to view the world from a submarine; they bob up now and again to check on the adult world, but most of the time they’re alone and their radio signals are faulty. Let the Right One In is about a boy who meets a vampire. He doesn’t tell anyone about it. But then, would any adult want to hear?
In a bleak little town in bleak little Sweden, a boy named Oskar is mercilessly bullied. Nothing unusual there. But Oskar is about to befriend a girl named Eli, who is a vampire. She doesn’t have pointy fangs or a cloak, or a castle in Transylvania; she just bites people the way a wolf bites, and drinks blood the way other kids drink milk. Oskar will come to love Eli. His first love, the kind that obliterates everything but the girl. And she’ll love him back, so strong that it makes blood pour from her eyes. But the bullies won’t stop bullying Oskar. And sooner or later, the boy and the vampire are going to rip out certain throats. Such is childhood.
Snow is right for a vampire story. It’s everywhere in Let the Right One In, virginal and deathly. And quiet, too. It’s never loud when snow is falling. It’s inviting, if you long for quiet, or if you quietly long for death. Eli doesn’t feel the cold. She has a beautiful line when she tells Oskar, “I guess I forgot how”. She goes everywhere barefoot, a girl who looks twelve in one light and forty in another. The actress, Lina Leandersson, looks like she’s been awake for a hundred years. Her hair is so black it’s like someone spilled night on it. Set against a white backdrop, that black has the shock of blood.
The best part of the vampire myth is that you have to invite them into your home. Like winter, they look tempting when you look outside. But once they’re in… It isn’t even that they might kill you that’s frightening, it’s what you might do. “Be me,” Eli tells Oskar. She isn’t there for him to stop her; she’s there to see if he can stop himself. The first time she saw him he was practising how he planned to stab someone. Kåre Hedebrant, who plays Oskar, looks like he could be cruel. When he whacks one of the bullies with a stick, you see joy in his face – liberation. He doesn’t care that someone’s hurt.
The recurring image in Let the Right One In is the window, both a barrier and a portal. Oskar leaves a heat imprint from his hand on one window; Eli’s first murder is seen through another; the window of the apartment where Eli lives is covered over to keep out sunlight; the man she lives with opens a hospital window to let Eli in; that man falls out a window when Eli drains his neck. Everyone is kept separate by glass. Even the drunks – and the movie is full of drunks – see each other over pint glasses. Disconnection runs through Stockholm like a fissure. Unless you count Oskar and Eli.
Most vampire stories are about sex, even if they claim to be love stories. Dracula picks his victims because they’re virgins. He doesn’t care about their hearts. But Eli loves Oskar. Stronger than you or I can remember. She loves him the way a child loves, raw, like an animal. In the movie’s best scene, Oskar asks her what happens if he doesn’t invite her in, and the answer is: she would die willingly. That’s love, the way you feel it when it’s all you feel. If vampires and children share one thing, it’s clarity. Vacillation is an adult trait. In Let the Right One In, the boy doesn’t even consider he has a choice.