"Let Me In": Vampires, Neighbors, Classmates By Bregtje Schudel
Tomas Alfredson’s vivid adaptation of Let Me In [Låt den rätte komma in] may not have won our big prize, but this bittersweet drama about growing pains — with a twist — certainly was a strong contender.
Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) knows everything about the struggles of growing up. His parents are divorced, he doesn’t have any friends and he is being bullied at school. Not for any particular reason, just because he’s different (in other words: smart). Still, Oskar plods on, silently enduring the intimidation of his classmates. But everything changes with the arrival of the mysterious neighbor girl Eli (Lina Leandersson). She’s a bit of an odd one herself. Her windows are boarded up, she only appears at night and her ‘father’ goes on mysterious outings with a macabre survival kit containing chloroform, a jerry can and a hunting knife. Nevertheless, the two children bond, even though it slowly dawns on Oskar that Eli isn’t who —- or even what — she seems…
Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Swedish bestseller “Låt den rätte komma in”, Alfredson has made an oddly pleasant mix of coming-of-age and horror. Let the right one in is about vampires, but it’s not a generic vampire movie. It’s more in line with films like George A. Romero’s Martin (1977), Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987) or Guillermo Del Toro’s Cronos (1993), where it’s more about personal conflict than cheap monster movie thrills. Of course there is some standard vampire stuff: the blood thirst, the sun allergy, the need to be invited in (although this time there are no crucifixes or garlic and Eli does seem to have a reflection). But ultimately it’s about the budding friendship between two outsiders. Alfredson understands that even vampires can get lonely.
Alfredson deftly mixes the different genre styles. Touching moments of bonding are effortlessly interchanged with instants of visceral horror. But although Alfredson handles the horror well — and with a healthy dose of morbid humor and cinematic fervor — it’s in the drama that he excels. His portrayal of Oskar’s world is spot on, but always in a subtle, understated way. In simple strokes Alfredson paints a clear picture: Oskar’s occasional trips to his father, who loves him but can’t stay of the drink, his mother who tries to compensate for her absence at home by being overly protective, the well-meaning teacher who doesn’t see the psychological warfare that is raging on the playground. Oskar isn’t exactly unhappy, just very very lonely. That’s something to which most of us can relate.
The film boasts strong performances, especially from the two main young actors. Hedebrant is absolutely endearing as the boy who feels he doesn’t belong – something he also recognizes in Eli. Leandersson has just the right amount of gentleness and ferociousness for a likable vampire. She is both sympathetic and dangerous, although we never fear for Oskar’s life.
Sometimes Alfredson overreaches a little by just wanting to put in too much. One subplot involving one of Eli’s victims — who consequently is turning into a vampire herself — is hilarious (a scene where she’s being attacked by a gang of crazy cats must be seen to be believed) but also a bit superfluous. But these just are minor imperfections in an overall moving story about a boy and a girl, where the girl just happens to have a craving for blood.