Let the Right One In

Tomas Alfredson’s film adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 vampire novel, Let the Right One In, uses the vampire legend in much the same way as Hollywood did in its prudish days of yore: as a device to smuggle in the exploration of erotic themes. At the core of the picture is the relationship between Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a 12-year-old boy who is the target of bullying at his school, and Eli (Lina Leandersson), a vampire who, by outward appearances, is the same age as he. At the beginning of the film, we see Oskar standing by his bedroom window in his tighty-whities, rehearsing a violent fantasy in which he revenges himself upon his attackers. Meanwhile, beneath him, two new arrivals to his apartment complex, Eli and her caretaker, move in. A loner in school, Oskar welcomes his friendship with Eli, which he cements by lending her his Rubik’s Cube. (The film is set in 1982.) She returns the favor by encouraging him to fight. Oskar is not a guileless paragon; he nurtures a disturbing habit of cutting out morbid stories from newspapers, and the film’s ending suggests a violent future may lie in wait for him. Soon after Eli loses her caretaker, her friendship with Oskar acquires a romantic hue, which is tactfully conveyed by Alfredson, whose directorial approach is pleasingly unadorned. The manner in which Alfredson conjoins the innocence of the children as they plumb their relationship with their disconcerting adaptability to a world in which cruelty is unexceptional, is a triumph of sentiment over the sentimental. That is to say, Let the Right One In is successful in its evocation of childhood as anything but a fragile utopia.