Movie Review: Let the Right One In (Lat den ratte komma in)
Is there any loneliness more profound than a vampire's? Imagine passing the centuries with no hope of lasting human contact, living always surrounded by death – the deaths of friends you lose and the deaths of strangers you kill – and hiding from a species to which you feel superior in many ways. Now imagine being stuck in the body of a middle-schooler, trapped in a frosty country that reflects the coldness of your own skin, and you have “Let the Right One In.”
Sweden's John Aivide Lindqvist wrote the screenplay from his novel, and Tomas Alfredson directed as subtly as you could hope: The bits of carnage are brief, violent enough to convey the vampire's disgusting compulsion, yet never gratuitous.
The film succeeds on two counts: It shows the mundane horror of the existence of Eli (Lina Leanderssohn), who will be forever 12, and the horrible mundanity of the life of Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a normal 12-year-old who lives in the apartment next door and is found in other boys' company only when he's being bullied. (Both actors make their debuts and could not be better.)
Lindqvist quickly lets us know that we're not going to get any back story. We don't learn how Eli became a monster, or why the elderly mortal who lives with her sadly cuts people's throats to feed his roommate.
We know almost nothing about Oskar's other neighbors, most of them victims of one sort or another: In one scene, a woman is literally covered in cats, which sense vampires and loathe them.
The script adheres to most vampire lore: They're unnaturally strong and fast, they climb amazingly, sunlight can pain or burn them, and they must be invited into a dwelling. (This may be the first picture to show what happens when they enter uninvited, and it's not pretty.) Lindqvist and Alfredson don't ask pity for Eli's behavior – she's devouring innocent people, after all – but they do ask us to empathize with her melancholy, tentative efforts to befriend Oskar, though she suspects she shouldn't.
The story is more his than hers. Through Oskar we feel the joy of bloodying a bully's face for the first time, the earliest sexual stirrings, the pain of choosing between keeping one true friend and keeping the neighborhood safe from her. Vampirism is often used in our culture as a metaphor for addiction, with thirst for blood replacing a thirst for sex or drugs; here, it's simply a soul-destroying condition.
Alfredson almost never uses music to set a mood, just the silence of snow falling on snow or the crunch of a bully's boots marching toward a victim. The most violent scene is dreamlike, and more direct killings are often seen at an angle or from a distance. The camera placement is thoughtful and effective, never titillating.
The filmmakers didn't have the courage to take the picture to its natural end. They start to do that, setting up a daring finale, then resolve the story with a trite, play-to-the-audience coda.
But that's the only misstep in a tale that proves there's life in the undead yet, when they fall into the hands of imaginative storytellers.