As strange love stories go, vampire stories generally count among the strangest. Let the Right One In surely counts as even stranger still, a beautiful, haunting, chilly story of pre-teen love, torment, and bloodsucking. This Swedish film, based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (which borrows its title from the Morrissey song "Let the Right One Slip In") is blood curdling not so much because of its depiction of vampirism, but in its deadly accurate depiction of the cruelty, desperation, and loneliness of pre-teen life.
Twelve year old Oskar (Kare Heldebrant), pale, blond and tormented by bullies, fantasizes about revenge. Night after bleak wintry night, he kills time in the snow-covered courtyard of the apartment complex where he lives with his divorced mother. It's there that he attracts the attention of a new neighbor, a 12 year old girl name Eli (Lina Leandersson) who, except for her dark hair, is even paler than Oskar. She's a ragged child, and looks poorly cared for by Hakan (Per Ragnar), the weary, middle-aged man (her father, her guardian, her servant? -- it's never made clear) she lives with. Hakan suffers a series of misadventures while attempting to procure blood for Eli -- he is, in effect, an ineffectual serial killer, and she is, it turns out, a vampire. Eli, despite gnawing hunger, declines to dine on Oskar, instead befriending the friendless boy. Oskar, at least at first, doesn't seem to notice how peculiar and doleful the girl next door is, but mostly, he doesn't care. When you're all alone, a friend is a friend, no matter how odd.
Eli hints to Oskar that she has been twelve years old for a long time. Let the Right One In makes very clear what a terrible fate that would be -- to live forever on the edge of adolescence, neither child nor adult, in that most confused, tortured, and insecure time of life. Eli and Oskar are both awkward and tentative, and both, in their own way, can also be cruel. Director Tomas Alfredson doesn't romanticize adolescence or vampirism -- Let the Right One In is unambiguously frank about the grim horrors of being either twelve or a vampire (or even worse, both). Let the Right One In is about alienation and isolation, and the recognition that you don't have to be undead to have trouble connecting with people. The very ordinary loneliness of Eli and Oskar has nothing to do with her being a vampire, and everything to do with being a pre-teen and (for whatever arbitrary reason) a social outcast.
The film's chilliness is expressed in its quiet, still, and meticulous cinematography, as well as its wintry Scandinavian setting. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema abjures the kind of jumpy, hectic movement and off-kilter framing that mark so much of contemporary horror, in favor of a quieter, more contemplative approach that makes the film's occasional spasms of violence and bloodletting (and blacker than black humor) that much more arresting.