It’s February 1982, in a suburb of Stockholm. It’s a dark, cold, desolate environment, and the individuals who live there, cloaked in loneliness and alcohol, are already on the edge of madness. Oskar is 12 and bullied; he is obsessed by fantasies of violent, bloody revenge. He falls in love with a mysterious girl named Eli who moves in next door; later, he realises she’s a very old vampire trapped in a 12 year old body, responsible for some horrible local murders.
This film came out around the same time of Twilight; critics said see Let The Right One In instead if you're seeking a vampire fix. The vampire is not the sanitised, eroticised creature of recent culture, but rather resembles those in early folkloric tales – she smells and is more animal than ethereal. It is one of the best horror movies of the past few years and ranks high among the greatest and most compelling vampire flicks of all time. Though I didn't watch it till about a month ago when the DVD was released, the actual release took place in 2008 and ranks in my personal top ten list for best films of 2008.
The film is powerful on the atmospheric level. Like 30 Days Of Night released earlier the same year, there is a certain beauty on film when darkness, cold, snow and blood mix. The depressing and lonely environment adds to the creepiness and claustrophobic horror of the scenes depicted.
Most impressive of all is the cast. The relationship between Oskar and Eli elicits very strong emotions; ones that are both disturbing yet sympathetic. Both seem to be so young and innocent and you feel a certain relief that these two lonely isolated children found each other. There is a deep romance and chemistry between them, and you feel the urge to cheer them on in their venture to be together forever against all others. The two young actors are powerfully strange, with a tangible connection; particularly striking is a scene where Oskar refuses to invite the vampire into his flat but she enters anyway and starts bleeding out of her eyes; he then lets her in, literally and metaphorically. However there are subtle nuances that reveal something more disturbing and creepy is going on that is difficult to capture upon the first viewing of the film, and it leaves you wondering why does the film evoke such mixed feelings.
As with all the great stories involving vampires, the story juxtaposes selfishness with selflessness. This is the great internal struggle. The compelling love story of Oskar and Eli ultimately is a very selfish relationship, as most love stories are these days. The love they share is very isolated from the world. In their mind they know the love they feel is right, and this justifies the horrible wrongs they commit against everyone else. Inside they feel a deep anger against the world, a world that isolated them and failed to accept them. There is no forgiveness, no mercy, no love and no salvation outside of their relationship to one another.
Lest we think the children are the only victims of this story, we must force ourselves to see the adults are victims as well. They seem to be powerless and lonely themselves, who are alcoholics, unemployed or working minimum wage jobs. Though everyone is the victim of the tale, both the adults and children are presented with a moral choice of victimizing others. It is the children in this story that choose to victimize, though in many ways it also shows how they learn to victimize from the adults. The story ends with a final gruesome battle between the bullies and Eli that depicts a significant baptism scene of Oskar which leaves the viewer with many questions on how to interpret it. Is it a baptism of violence or a baptism of love? Or maybe it just shows a cathartic element to the bloodbath.
It wasn't until I did some research into the book that I fully discovered the disturbing morality of the tale. Shockingly we learn that Eli is not a girl, but a castrated boy (hence the omnisexual name). This is alluded to in the film when the private parts of Eli are quickly shown with scarring and earlier Eli asks Oskar if she will love him even if he finds out she is not a girl. The fact that Oskar's father is a homosexual alludes to the acceptability Oskar shows Eli when he notices Eli is not a she but a he. Furthermore, there is an element of paedophilia to the tale making it sort of a vampiric Lolita story, if you consider the fact that Eli is a decades old man in love with a real 12 year old boy. She seems to learn this from her handler who is clearly a pedophile who she has a sort of love/hate relationship with. Thus, the sexuality of the children is something learned from the adults in their lives. It also shows the manipulation Eli uses with Oskar who sees in him a repacement to her dead handler. Eli sees nothing wrong with genuinely loving Oskar while knowingly using and manipulating him for her own ends. All this adds to the duality and complexity of the film that leaves many layers to think about.
This is an interview with Lina Leandersson, who played the little vampire girl Eli in Let The Right One In. It is in Swedish with English subtitles.