“Let the Right One In” – 2008 Tribeca Film Festival Review

In 1982, when a seemingly endless winter grips the suburbs of Stockholm, poor little Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) has issues. His school days are a constant nightmare of harassment by bullies who beat him, spit on him and call him a pig. He battles his foes alone in his impotent fantasies, and even goes so far as to bring a concealed knife to school. But since he can never bring himself to actually use it, his revenge remains relegated to the realms of his imagination. His home life is hardly less fraught with difficulty, as he is shuttled back and forth between battling divorced parents.

Oskar seems doomed to an endless cycle of isolation and despair, until he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), the new neighbor next door, a mysterious dark-haired little girl living with her father, who strangely seems impervious to the cold. Eli also happens to be a vampire.

This forms the premise of Tomas Alfredson’s superior vampire yarn “Let the Right One In,” a visually striking film that deepens its outrageous story with an evocative examination of adolescence and suburban life. Based on a popular novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also wrote the screenplay), the film imbues its scenario with a wickedly twisted sense of humor, as well as moments of startling tenderness mixed in among the appropriately gory bits.

The title refers to a rule of vampire etiquette which states that they must be invited in to get close to their victims. Even though we see this idea illustrated literally late in the film, the title also evokes the delicate and unlikely romance that develops between 12-year-old Oskar and 12-years-old-going-on-millenia Eli, and their desire to break their solitude, even at the risk of personal safety. Horror, humor and romance are expertly intertwined in Alfredson’s film, and he excels at finding just the right tone for this material, which in lesser hands would be an ungodly mess. Even the most gruesome moments are given a hilarious touch; for example, an early scene shows the efforts of Eli’s father to gather blood for his daughter from a freshly strung-up corpse, only to be thwarted by some passersby and their unruly poodle. The film’s denouement, a final confrontation between Oskar and his tormentors at a school swimming pool, culminates in a priceless sight gag that manages to be funny, shocking and beautifully touching all at once. “Let the Right One In” is a major discovery of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, a gem far more worthy of attention than some of the more high-profile selections.

“Let the Right One In” won The Founders Award for Narrative Feature at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival.