Thoughts on “Let The Right One In” (2008)

Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma), based on the novel of the same name by John A. Lindqvist, is a creepy film. I still remember the praise it received years ago (and continues to receive), because it’s so dark, so chilling, so innocent, so off-putting, and made with an aesthetic that favours art and storytelling rather than fast-paced commercialism and trying to get blockbusters to appeal to tween girls and their mothers. It’s all about audience. The Twilight films are geared toward the more commercial, mass audience and Let the Right One In is more of an art-house film, something that takes its time with pacing and establishes a story rooted in our worst fears but also our greatest hopes in a way.

While I do think the film deserves all the praise that it received, I’m not sure Hollywood needed to do its own remake called Let me In, which I have yet to see, but I’ve heard that it’s also a faithful adaptation. Still, like most devotees of horror cinema, I seldom think that remakes of a European or Japanese version of a film are done well. In any case, I enjoyed watching this film, especially as the ending surprised me.

Sympathy is such an interesting thing. It’s also one of the toughest–and most critical–things for any writer to establish, whether writing a screenplay, a novel, or a short story. In this case, the audience’s sympathy should go to Oskar and Eli, the young protagonists of the film, one a twelve year-old schoolboy tormented by Connie, and two other accomplices who, despite the fact that they’re unwilling, still go along with what he asks them to do and put Oskar through a lot. The other, Eli, has been twelve for the past two hundred years, something that the film doesn’t explicitly acknowledge (she refers to having been twelve for a long time). She’s not a girl, as she insists, but a vampire, and all she wants is another kid to play with, to keep her company, and to ignore the fact that she lives off human blood and that all other food makes her sick 😉

“Refreshing” is often a word that gets associated with this work, and with good reason. I sympathized with Oskar, of course, but also with Eli, because even though she’s a vampire and not really a child besides the fact that she inhabits the body of one, there aren’t any gratuitous transformation scenes. The blood that’s shown is done so in a sparing manner, which increases the film’s impact. It’s not about “Oh dear Lord, there’s a vampire child in town and she’s terrorizing everyone! How can we stop her? We, the townspeople, have to find out where she lives, barge in there, and kill her!” (of course, one of the men tries to do just that, finding the girl in her makeshift coffin, a bathtub), and it’s not “Oh, this poor girl is so in love with this boy and all they want to do is be together, even if it consumes both of them!” It’s not a Harlequin romance, and the “love” they feel is more along the lines of companionship, as they are so young, and their interactions, despite their kiss and Oskar’s assertions that he wants them to “go steady,” don’t carry the connotations of a deeper lingering sexual desire that fuels every Twilight knockoff out there.

But the aspect I found connected me the most to Oskar was his experience being bullied, even if the other two boys in the bully, Connie’s, crew weren’t comfortable going along with it, one of the particularly remorseful boys going so far as to cry as he whipped Oskar in one scene, which begs the question–if they didn’t want to bully Oskar, why were they going along with Connie’s demands? Did Connie’s older brother, who, it should be noted, bullies his younger brother but somehow seems to love and defend him, force the other boys into participating in Oskar’s torment?

Eli counsels Oskar, advising him to “hit back.” When he protests that there are three of them, she tells him to hit back even harder. A few scenes later, on a school outing to a lake, he does just that and does what most of us who have suffered through bullying would only dream of doing. It’s not relevant to the plot whether he gets suspended or expelled from school, but we do get to witness a scene in which Oskar’s mother frantically pleads with the boy’s father (they’re separated) to talk some sense into his son. Still, one can hardly blame the poor kid for striking out the way he did. As children we’re always taught that for every negative action, there is a consequence, usually punishment or that something bad will in turn affect the wrongdoer. But bullies seem to have an immunity to consequences. Either they don’t care, or they get a slap on the wrist because of who their parents are. The point is, they always seem to get away with it. Certainly, that’s been my experience with the bullies I dealt with growing up.

They cause physical and emotional damage. Scars that never fully heal. Of course, there comes a point when we’re forced to move on, and it becomes clear that nobody really gives a shit about the effects that bullying has had on us with the exception of close loved ones.

I found this film to be powerful because it explored this often painful territory. The story is told in a way that makes it seem wonderful, because it shows that there is hope for Oskar and that the pain will stop for him, but Eli doesn’t exactly lead a charmed life. When she can no longer rely on her adult helper for fetching blood, she has to do it herself, which does a lot of harm. Oskar knows this, and eventually realizes that she’s a vampire, but despite the fact that he has his reservations, as any normal person would, he still wants to be with Eli all the time and doesn’t see a killer. He just sees his best friend, and the girl who cares for him the most, even going so far as to kill for him. Granted, he does get pretty shaken up when a few drops of his blood land on the floor and she laps them up like a cat, but like any other child, she’s hungry, and needs to eat, even if her dish of choice is fresh blood.

Another aspect that differentiates this film from other works of vampire fiction is that it’s missing a sense of feeling an obligation to explain an origin story. We know from the movie’s promotional blurbs that Eli has been 12 for more than 200 years, but we never get an explanation of how she became a vampire, if she was born as one or if someone sired her and if so, who (and why/how). We never learn if there are other vampires, although we do see that she can turn others into vampires if the victim doesn’t die. And we don’t learn where she came from, or why she speaks Swedish 😉 But these unanswered questions give the work more freedom in a sense, because it allows the work not to be forced into a corner, constrained by the limits of vampire mythology or cliched plot points we’ve seen thousands of times before.

If you haven’t see “Let the Right One In,” I urge you to do so. It’s an exercise in originality, but also just a compelling story told in a unique way with characters that have complex motivations and are well-developed. The work really touched me in a way that few films do, and it was a delight to have a story that mixes the innocence of a child’s world with the darkness of a vampire’s in a way that doesn’t come off as comedic or schmaltzy and overly romanticized.