Summary: A true masterpiece of postmodern horror, with heartrending emotional realism.
Review: No matter who you are, when you’re a kid, bullying always seems to find you. For some of us, it’s the moment when we realize that the world isn’t a friendly place. Many are deeply scarred by their experiences and they may become dysfunctional. Others adapt. ‘Let The Right One In’ explores the most tragic response to childhood bullying; turning into a bully yourself. The boy at the story’s heart sees it as the only way out. Then the little girl shows up. She’s not like any kid that Oskar has ever known. She tells him his instincts are correct. With Oskar right on the cusp of puberty, the mysterious Eli is magnetic, and in due time he gets close enough to discover the terrible truth: She’s a vampire.
This is a meditation on all aspects of abuse, which is what makes ‘Let The Right One In’ a prime example of the horror genre. There’s nothing scarier than the bitter truth. The title comes from a rule, mentioned occasionally in vampire legends, that prevents a vampire from entering a place uninvited. As Oskar discovers, casual evil is indiscriminate, but the most insidious things ask for permission. As we know, bullying doesn’t disappear when we grow up; it just becomes more devious. An abuser needs victims for their sense of self to survive. There’s an obvious parallel with vampirism.
Eli is a vampire’s victim, and tragically, she can only survive by embracing this new identity and the habitual murder that comes with it. The character isn’t a villain or an object of horror. She’s a believable, sympathetic person. Oskar, for his part, just wants his anger to mean something. Eli catches him early on stabbing a tree and practicing taunts. When I was young and angry, sometimes my parents told me to go punch a pillow; but it didn’t matter, really, whether I punched a pillow or a brick wall. We all want our fantasies to manifest. Some of us have wise guardians who prevent us from taking vengeance and destroying ourselves. Oskar isn’t so lucky. Eli becomes his protector, but she’s also the ultimate bully. Her feelings for Oskar are genuine, but she’s also the worst thing for him.
The film is technically well executed. There’s no shaky handheld camera, jump cuts, or cheap scares. The pristine wintry scenery is breathtaking and deceptively serene. Johan Söderqvist’s score is incredibly beautiful, and if you need proof, just take a listen here. The standout scene of the entire film is, fittingly, the ending. I’ll probably never look at a swimming pool the same way again.
‘Let The Right One In’ will be considered among the 21st Century’s first masterpieces, even if it is under-appreciated by the public. It’s a cinematic opus, a story that director Tomas Alfredson and writer John Ajvide Lindqvist should be terribly proud of.