It’s only May and I’ve already watched three very different vampire movies. 2008 Swedish chiller Let the Right One In is the one which most thoroughly explores vampire imagery and lore; it’s just as good as you’ve heard, achingly sad and genuinely awful and scary.
A few notes which I hope won’t constitute spoilers. But really, if you think you might like this movie and you haven’t already seen it, what’s keeping you? (In my case the answer was, “A Netflix queue which circles the earth like the Midgard Serpent.” No excuse!)
The story follows Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a 12-year-old who has been scraped down by bullying into a bone-white husk filled with rage. He meets the new girl in town, Lina Leandersson’s Eli, who smells bad, doesn’t feel the cold, and only comes out at night.
Ah, everything about this movie is done so well, and so painfully! The snowbound setting, with a train going by in the background just to heighten the loneliness; the parallel between Oskar and Eli, who both see no way to survive without turning to violence; the perfect uses of vampire tropes like burning sunshine and hostile pets. I had honestly never thought before about how vulnerable the vampire’s inability to cross a threshold uninvited would make someone. Regular humans can just go wherever, they can break into your home and invade your privacy, and you have to stand at the doorway and ask.
It would be easy for a movie like this to overbalance. I don’t think it would work if the vampiric violence (not all by Eli) were downplayed. The intense, helpless sympathy I felt for the two kids would have been less powerful if Eli were less brutal and horrifying. This isn’t a movie which coddles you or lets you feel an easy pity. From her very first scene Eli is fearsome: She’s hungry, and the creaking, tearing, rumbling, slurping sounds which issue from her gut are some of the scariest horror-movie noises I’ve heard since Ringu. And yet even in that terrifying moment she’s a child in pain.
This is a near-perfect movie, coldly shot but deeply felt: an exploration of friendship, of the morality of violence, of the unspeakable loneliness of childhood.