Let the Right One In (2008)

March 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

Several months ago I began hearing about an inventive Swedish vampire film with the intriguing title Let the Right One In.  It sounds like a poetry book, or a novel — certainly a far cry from the titles of most horror films. The plot concerns Oskar, a sensitive 12 year old in a perpetual state of distress, constantly picked on at school by a small gang of three kids.  In a scene where one of the kids is told to whip Oskar by their leader, the kid does it, but bursts into tears partway through the task — and I have to say, it’s a thoughtful film that makes it clear without spelling it out that bullies thrive on spineless followers as much as their own anger. I won’t say too much about the film and ruin it for others, but Oskar meets Eli, a 12 year old girl who appears to be rather special, and the two form a bond, as they’re both already old enough to instinctively know something about loneliness.  It’s beautifully shot, with excellent performances, a minimal score (at least, I don’t remember a score) and a unique take on vampires. Much is made of the old idea that you need to invite a vampire into your home before he or she can enter, and it becomes symbolic of carefully choosing the people that are close to you.

The film reminded me of Habit (1997) a somewhat clunky but ultimately mesmerizing low-budget New York film where vampirism is a metaphor for clinging people and needy relationships. It’s directed by Larry Fessenden who also plays the lead character, falling hard for a vampire named Anna (Meredith Snaider, in her first and only film) and finding the relationship like quicksand — he simply can’t seem to untangle himself. Both films take the well-worn idea of a vampire and use it as a springboard to get to other ideas. Habit is the colder and harsher film, outlining various ideas (sometimes in speeches by the characters that seem a little too direct) but thankfully never really spelling out the needy relationship metaphor. Let the Right One In, on the other hand, takes the vampire premise and grows a sincere and touching story around it, making its point through more subtle emotional content, so that it’s ultimately the more successful of the two.  At the same time, I sincerely appreciate any fresh take on such an old idea, and Habit is not to be missed.

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