Things are looking grim for twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant). People from his small town in Sweden have gone missing, classmates are bullying him around in increasingly violent ways, and his parents have separated. Then, right as the bloody, mangled bodies of the townspeople start turning up, a girl named Eli (Line Leandersson) moves in next door. Here's the catch: she only comes out at night and is freakishly immune to the harsh Swedish temperatures. Yes, Eli is a vampire.
Tomas Alfredson's film Let the Right One In may be coming out right before Halloween, but it's not your typical horror movie about vampires -- it could hardly even be classified as a thriller. Instead, the film -- based on a best-selling Swedish novel by John Ajvide Lindquvist -- focuses more on the developing relationship between Eli and Oskar than on her unfortunate condition. In fact, Eli, a young, compassionate vampire, is paradoxically less dangerous than the cruel bullies in Oskar's class. And although there are traces of latent sexuality in Eli and Oskar's relationship, the typical staple of vampire lore is largely absent, replaced instead by an innocent yet inexplicably deep bond.
Although this is the first feature film for Hedebrant and Leandersson -- both of whom turned 13 within the last 6 months -- their performances are quite impressive. In her various stages of health and hunger, Leandersson impressively navigates the lines between innocent and unimposing, eerie and otherworldly. Her lines are few, but her delivery is dead on; her body language and facial expressions alone take the film far above the B film it occasionally threatens to be. With dark, sunken eyes, Leandersson effectively conveys the desperate yearning for something more, a thematic focal point of the film.
The music and backdrop of the film are also fitting for a work that is so unconventional and genre-bending. From the opening scene, the intensity of the orchestral music immediately draws you in and initiates the juxtaposition of beauty and horror that develops throughout. Spliced between the gruesome carnage of the blood-letting scenes are moments of calm --- snow falling softly on branches or kids sitting calmly in class -- while the muted color schemes and pale Scandinavian skin only draw more attention to the contrasting vividness of the blood.
Not all of Let the Right One In's idiosyncrasies are worth bragging about. One cinematically painful scene features CGI vampire cats, and the film can be distractingly absurd (much like Joon-ho Bong's The Host minus the comedic aspects). Still, this film is too intriguing to just slip through the cracks. Anne Rice may have recently sworn off vampires, but there's no denying that these fanged creatures of the night have made a comeback in recent years. With Let the Right One In, the possibilities of a unique vampire narrative are oddly reinvigorated by being heartfelt.