There are a variety of myths surrounding the sanguinary creature we call the vampire. While the name and the minutia of the lore varies from region to region, the overarching theme remains consistent: the vampire, an undead creature of mythos, sustains its presence in the physical world by consuming the life-force of the living. In most cases, this requires feasting on the victim’s blood. Other characteristics of the vampire include transformative abilities, regenerative properties, super strength, and an aversion to daylight; today’s popular culture tends to pick and choose from the traditional attributes, combining them at their leisure. Admittedly, some interpretations take greater liberties than others (I’m looking at you, Twilight), but one rule remains almost universally acknowledged: a vampire cannot gain access to a home without an invitation. The establishment of such a law works to maintain a kind of balance – a buffer, even – between good and evil. As long as the victims remain self-aware, they stay master of their own domain, secure in a place that evil cannot penetrate. Unfortunately, that balance is delicate and easily tipped in the favor of the darkness.
Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is a Swedish vampire film that centers around the lives of two young outsiders. Though one is a vampire and the other is not, neither seems to be welcome in the world of humans. Our main characters hover on the brink of society, of adolescence, and of evil – looking in, waiting for an invitation to forge ahead.
The first of our two main characters is a young boy named Oskar. Oskar is an outsider in every sense of the word. The scrawny, pale-faced youth is bullied in school, shipped back and forth between two inattentive parents, and is left largely to his own devices. In his free time, Oskar indulges in the fantasy of stabbing his bullies and enjoys the morbid hobby of scrapbooking murder cases. Though these eccentricities indicate a worrisome dark side, his pitiful nature draws sympathy from the audience and paints his as a victim of his situation.
It is during one of his role-playing sessions that Oskar encounters Eli, a girl who looks to be about his age, has impossibly large eyes, walks barefoot in the snow, and smells of death. Eli is a vampire. For Eli’s part, she is well established in her way of life – she’s been twelve for a long time now and has managed successfully thus far. However, Eli, too, is in a precarious situation – she requires the protection of a faithful servant willing to acquire blood for her meals, and is therefore reliant on another for survival. Regardless of how long she has been twelve, she remains twelve at heart and possesses no desire to murder people. Cursed by her very nature, Eli is lonely.
The backdrop for this film – a beautifully white, minimalistic landscape doused in a wintry light, is also one that evokes feelings of lonliness and unease. The film’s palette is faded, void of bright colors save for the vivid red of blood that is guaranteed to set the viewer’s stomach churning. For all intent and purposes, the film itself seems frozen, each frame carefully composed with a steady hand. Like the main characters, the town itself is removed and forlorn, arrested in that moment of quiet before chaos. Alfredson has created a motionless, crystalline world that teeters on the precipice of danger, ready to slip off the edge and shatter at the slightest provocation.
Let the Right One In is a horror film that extends beyond the boundaries of its genre, and into the realm of social commentary. The inner-working of the characters takes precedence over the presence of monsters. Adolescence, dark inner desires, and companionship in shared loneliness are all themes explored in this piece of cinema that is delightfully cold and touching at the same time.