The Review/Short Read/

Hump Day Movie: Let the Right One In

All your Scandinavian vampire child needs

Jul 20, 2016

Tonight, director Catherine Hardwicke will take part in an onstage conversation about her expansive career, which has seen her employed as everything from the production designer on Tank Girl to directing films like Thirteen, Lords Of Dogtown, the original Twilight movie and Miss You Already, which premiered at TIFF in 2015. An adept chronicler of teen angst, Hardwicke has told universal stories of young folks transforming into adulthood in a variety of ways, from the skateboarding protagonists of Dogtown to the diamond-skinned vampires of Twilight. Her careful ruminations on how we rein in (or let loose) the demons that reside within each of us are as varied as they are entertaining, profiling the beauty and danger inherent in growing up.

For another innovative take on the figurative and literal horrors of youth, I recommend Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 vampire film, Let The Right One In. (Not to be confused with the later American film Let Me In, starring Chloe Grace Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee.) An adaptation of the original 2004 Swedish novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the film follows Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a shy young boy living in the suburbs of Stockholm. Bullied by his peers and deeply lonely at home, Oskar finds a kindred spirit in Eli (Lena Leandersson), who has moved into the apartment next door. While initially distant, they quickly become friends, communicating in Morse code through the walls of their adjoining bedrooms.

Eli is different from Oskar’s tormentors at school. She listens to him, and encourages him to stand up to those who put him down. She is different in other ways, too, which become apparent as their relationship progresses. When Oskar asks Eli to be his girlfriend, Eli responds by saying “Oskar, I’m not a girl.” He begins to realize that Eli may be something other than human, something older than she appears, someone who has been trapped in the same form for a long, long time.

What follows is a deeply moving and sometimes off-putting exploration of how scary it is to transform from childhood to adulthood, and just how quickly and abruptly these transformations can occur. The people in Oskar’s life, from his parents to his bullies, are all in various stages of the same transfiguration. Eli, with her pale skin and haunted eyes might be the most grown-up of the lot, a living contradiction of apparent youth and obvious experience, an embodiment of the idea of arrested development. Growing up is scary. Let the Right One In crystallizes this fear and depicts the violence of transformation, and the lengths to which people will go to feel as though they are truly understood by another being. It’s less a vampire film than a treatise on what it is to truly be human. Bella and Edward get it. So should you.