Red on white on white, Tomas Alfredson’s “Let the Right One In” is a moody, surprising Nordic pre-teen love story about a bullied boy, Oskar, and the girl who moves in next door, Eli a vampire. And it’s not the perky goth fable it sounds like it could be Oskar’s a monochromatic, friendless lad who plays with a knife and dreams of killing everyone who’s tormented him, while Eli’s eating habits leave her and the surrounding walls smeared with gobs of blood. Set in an ice-encrusted Swedish backwater, the film is centered in the apartment building in which the two children live, a thin-walled structure where everyone dwells claustrophobically close to one another in the midst of swaths of empty land. Eli and Oskar prefer to be alone, which is why they meet both go out at night to the courtyard for solitude, though Eli’s always underdressed and in bare feet. She reflects that she’s forgotten how to feel cold.
“Let the Right One In” isn’t told entirely from Oskar’s point of view, but it does have the elliptical quality of the internal life of an only half-emergent adolescent incidents swarm into sharp focus like unconnected memories. It’s a coming-of-age story, but only for Oskar Eli, played by the remarkable Lina Leandersson, with enormous eyes and a dour face, has the air of an old woman in a juvenile body, but is really just an eternal girl, frozen at 12. For Oskar, who likes stories of death and visiting his father in the country, and otherwise lives in metropolitan isolation, Eli arrives as a form of very dark salvation, and the formation and arc of their relationship is a knife-edge balanced mixture of the gentle and the disturbing, right through the film’s splendidly bittersweet ending.
Elegantly lensed to capture both the poetically bleak, birch tree snow globe exteriors and shabbier interiors of the town, “Let the Right One In” is the kind of film you like better a few days after first seeing it. Or at least I did by the very nature of its central connection, the film’s at an emotional remove, and it took some time mulling it over to really appreciate the inherent and uncompromising cruelty in its version of the world. That the film may include the gruesome ending of a previous iteration of the relationship Eli and Oskar strike up is the most unsettling fact of all after all, she’s never going to grow up.
“Let the Right One In” has been acquired by Magnet Releasing, though no theatrical dates have been announced yet.
[Photo: “Let the Right One In,” Magnet Releasing, 2008]
+ “Let the Right One In” (TribecaFilmFestival.org)