Let the Right One In is one of the oddest films I've seen in a while, but also one of the most interesting. After watching it last night, my entire dream cycle was occupied with variations upon what I'd just experienced, and it was the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning.
I'd never heard of this Swedish film (based on a Swedish best-selling novel) until my daughter Tammy gave me a copy on DVD last month for my birthday. She wanted to see it with us, and so it took nearly a month before we had an opportunity where all three of us - including Vicki - were together and in the mood for a vampire movie. As it turns out, Let the Right One In is unlike any other vampire flick I've ever seen. The closest comparison I can draw, and it's not a particularly good one, would be how I felt when I watched Salem's Lot on TV in 1979 (as a 16 year old). At that point in my life, I thought that I pretty much knew what to expect from vampire fiction (having read Bram Stoker's Dracula, dozens of Dracula comics, and seen many schlocky vampire movies), and yet that quirky TV event threw me for a loop. While the quality may not have been all that high, it definitely made an impression on me and opened my mind up to just how much more potential existed in that sub-genre than I'd imagined up to then.
In the case of Let the Right One In, I think the film-makers succeeded on both fronts: delivering superior craftsmanship, and expanding the range of vampire lore. It's all presented in a way that expects the audience to figure things out, rather than having it all delivered at the end of a spoon. Many of the relationships shown have to be inferred, with the implication being that you may, of course, come to the wrong conclusions in some cases. Because so much is going on, and yet so little is being provided to the viewer in a paint-by-numbers fashion, I found myself drawn more and more into the story because I wanted to make the connections myself. That's always a sign of an outstanding work of fiction, in my mind.
One of the most fascinating reactions I had, as the event rolled along, was trying to decide whether I could really justify rooting for the bloodsucking co-lead. I realize that that sort of dilemma is at the heart of much of the recent and current Nosferatu-fic (Anne Rice's work, Twilight, and even Spike and Angel of the Buffyverse) but here it's done in such a matter-of-fact manner as to make those others look almost cartoonish, by comparison. There's drama in Let the Right One In, but no melodrama. "I live off blood," says the undead creature at one key juncture, neither apologetically nor with any sense of pride. In order for her to live, others have to die. (And, in fact, if she doesn't kill them after feeding, she simply ends up making more like her! Therefore, is her act of murder actually one of compassion?)
At the center of the story is a 12 year old boy named Oskar, who's being bullied at school while the adults around him remain oblivious to it. He befriends a new neighbour named Eli, who describes herself as being "around 12." As we learn later on, she means that she was 12 when she was turned into a vampire and has been "around" - frozen at that physical age, though it's difficult throughout to get a good read on her emotional development - for an indeterminate number of years, decades or even centuries since. She knows all about sticking up for herself, and is therefore just the right type of person for Oskar to meet at that "coming-of-age" point in his young, beleaguered life. Except, of course, that she's exhibiting her "right to survive" by killing people in Oskar's town and thereby casting a pall of terror over the region. What's a 12 year old boy, experiencing love for the first time, expected to do in a head-scratching situation like that?
It took me a while to warm up to the film, as I spent the first 15 or 20 minutes bothered by some of the directorial choices. Some scenes are maddeningly-framed such that it's hard to even tell who's speaking, but eventually you either get used to that or come to realize why it's being done. It also didn't help that the DVD defaulted to "English dubbing," which featured some of the worst voice acting this side of a 1950s Godzilla groaner. Fortunately my brain eventually unfroze and I realized that I had the technology to switch us to the original Swedish audio track with English subtitles, after which the experience was exceedingly more pleasant. By the halfway point, I'd decided that I liked what I was seeing. By the end, I thought that I might just have loved it. I'll probably have to watch it a second time, in a year or two, to really know for sure. It's definitely worth watching, though, and I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for something a little different than the standard fare.
Rating: *** 1/2