In the excellent Swedish film Let the Right One In, 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) meets a mysterious girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) at night on the snowy plaza in front of their apartment block. She doesn't bundle up against the wintry weather, and when he asks why she isn't cold, she replies, "I guess I've forgotten how."
The audience learns early on that Eli lives on human blood and is much older than she looks, but she and Oskar nevertheless become unlikely friends. With its painful portrait of adolescence and shots of isolated figures against icy backdrops, Let the Right One In proves to be so well-observed and visually arresting that it would be engrossing even without the vampiric themes.
As in many horror movies, bullies prey on the sympathetic protagonist, giving the filmmakers the chance to build suspense for violent revenge fantasies. Let the Right One In is no exception, culminating with a haunting, freaky sequence in an indoor swimming pool. Oskar and Eli's status as lonely outsiders also serves to bring them together. Hedebrant's chalky pallor and Leandersson's enormous eyes give both young actors an unearthly quality. Their gradual, soft-spoken relationship seems inevitable, if less natural than supernatural.
Let the Right One In focuses on sharp details of Oskar and Eli's increasingly suspicious neighbors, almost giving the film the texture of one of Mike Leigh's working-class dramas. Eli also has a human agent who goes about his task like a weary worker on the night shift, like a butcher who specializes in people.
The title comes from the notion that vampires can't enter a home unless asked, and invites the audience to wonder who qualifies as a "right" one, the way humans mistreat each other. At times the film's grip on its vampire rules turns out to be more shaky, but Let the Right One In nevertheless proves to be one of the most unique and effective vampire stories of the decade that, paradoxically, leaves your heart warm even as your blood runs cold.
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