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Let the Right One In

Dir: Tomas Alfredson

Rating: 3.5

Magnolia Pictures

114 Minutes

A few weeks ago, I found a disemboweled cat on my front yard. I had been walking home from lunch and there it lay, discarded head next to the eviscerated corpse. “Coyotes,” a neighbor said as he picked up the remains and placed them in a trash bag. The cat did not appear to be eaten, just torn apart. “It was a spite kill,” a veterinarian friend of mine said. “The cat competed against the coyotes for rodents. Predators don’t like other predators.” Something about that statement struck me as odd. Aren’t humans the only creatures that kill for spite? Aren’t we the only ones that enjoy tormenting our quarry before the kill? This desire to torture others runs deep in our psyche. Cruelty begins at a young age when we learn to ostracize the class nerd as the strata of cool quickly develops. Such trauma leaves permanent scars. Violence begets more violence.

In Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, the combo of violence and youth is coupled with a hearty dose of vampirism. Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel, Let the Right One In focuses on Oskar (the quietly eerie Kåre Hedebrant), a lonely 12-year-old who lives in a ’80s Swedish suburb. Neglected by his divorced parents and bullied by a group of tormentors at school, Oskar spends his nights dreaming up ways to fight off his assailants; his solitude is highlighted by the stark Swedish winter where the snow sucks in the sounds of his depressing apartment complex. But things change when Eli (Lina Leandersson) moves in next door. She penetrates Oskar’s lonely nights and soon the two establish a bond that is, both literally and figuratively, sealed with blood. See, Alfredson takes no time to establish that Eli is a vampire. She has arrived with her “father,” Håkan (Per Ragner), who ineptly provides victims to satisfy Eli’s bloodlust. Why? Unlike humans, Eli takes no pleasure in killing. But, as bodies begin to turn up, Eli and Håkan soon find themselves under suspicion for the murders.

Vampirism has been used a metaphor for so many things in the past: social isolation, Nazism, homosexuality. Here, Alfredson and Lindqvist compare it with the pains of coming-of-age. Like Eli, Oskar feels damned by the remoteness and awkwardness of his condition (in his case, puberty). But this is not your typical blood-and-guts horror film. Alfredson is concerned about relationships. We watch Oskar and Eli grow close in what feels like a natural progression. They meet on a playground one night and Oskar offers Eli his Rubik’s Cube and eventually falls in love. It is Oskar’s fall from innocence that interests Alfredson (though some can argue he fell when his parents separated and his classmates began tormenting him- he seems quite unsurprised at Eli’s secret). Oskar learns how to fight, he sees Eli naked, he learns how to lie. In effect, his childhood is stripped away and he becomes a man.

Despite a few violent scenes that serve as ill-chosen distractions, the heart of Let the Right One In is the friendship between Oskar and Eli. Despite Eli’s vampirism, this relationship feels realistic. It is tentative, like the first time one becomes aware of the opposite sex. In fact, the violent climax of the film gets in the way of the story’s purported sweetness. It is almost as if the director condones the killing that Eli is so obviously against in the finale’s comedic staging.

But like most good horror films, Let the Right One In, leaves an unsettling aftertaste. There is a lot going on here under the surface and though Eli’s actions seem to come from loneliness, could they actually originate from nothing more than a basic need to survive? Like a pedophile who vamps on the innocence and helplessness of a child, could Eli be using Oskar’s isolation to further her own needs? This not an American film (even though a remake is already slated for these shores for 2010). There are no simple answers. Could it be, that like Oskar, we are duped by Eli’s charms as well? It is quite possible that Let the Right One In is the real vampire. Its prey? Our emotions.

by David Harris

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