Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) lives in a suburb of Stockholm with his mother and is bullied at school. He strikes up a friendship with Eli (Lina Leandersson), a girl who has recently moved to the area and the two develop a close relationship, talking to each other using Morse Code through their apartment walls. However, their relationship takes an unexpected twist when it transpires that Eli is, in fact, a vampire and the recent murders in the area are down to her.
In a time when vampires now sparkle and find themselves in love triangles with werewolves, it’s sometimes nice to remember a little about the true folklore of Transylvania’s favourite exports. Let The Right One In does just that, exploring the tradition that vampires cannot enter a dwelling without first being invited to do so. However, it takes it a little further than just the literal interpretation and looks at the effect it can have when you let the right person, not just into your house, but also into your life.
The film exhibits a certain melancholia, a bleakness that has become a hallmark of recent Scandinavian film and television output. Here we have two seemingly ill-fated children, not living but merely existing in the claustrophobic concrete jungle of a suburban tower block estate. As you’d expect, we rarely escape the clutches of darkness (it’s probably quite handy for a vampire to live in Scandinavia) and there’s a very oppressive atmosphere that envelopes the whole film. However, underneath all that is a story of hope and acceptance when there seems to be none left. Both Oskar and Eli are outsiders who find solace in one another irrespective of (or maybe because of) the prejudices that others hold (or may hold) against them.
This is all explored with a deliberate slow pace, a brooding that, whilst not without its chilling moments, doesn’t aim to scare or shock. We’re not subject to the cheap scare tactics employed by far too many horror films, which succeeds in allowing us to become that bit more invested in the characters rather than being torn from the narrative by an ill-timed jump scare. It’s a very visual film that relies on the atmosphere it creates more than anything else. Dialogue is kept to a minimum and yet there’s rarely need to question what’s going on; it’s really rather straightforward in its construction.
That’s not to say it’s without its flaws, however. Certain parts of the story don’t feel quite as developed as they could and it almost feels as if certain storylines have either been abandoned or tacked on as an afterthought. Oskar’s relationship with his mother, for example, is hastily touched upon whereas it could have done with fleshing out a little more. Similarly, Hakan, the man with whom Eli lives, is an intriguing character who perhaps isn’t afforded enough depth, whilst the plotline of Eli unintentionally turning a local into a vampire also feels a little rushed.
Let The Right One In is a story of young love, friendship and acceptance, which may sound like it treads close to Twilight territory, but it couldn’t be more different. It feels more like a traditional vampire tale made relevant for today’s audiences, with themes of longing and sadness plucked straight from Bram Stoker’s original novel. It may be a little on the slow side for those expecting a straight-up horror film, but that’s because it isn’t a straight up horror film. Let The Right One In is a horror film that dispenses with tropes and cliches to transcends its genre and deliver a character piece that’s touching and tender.