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Let the Right One In: A Study in Tone

May 24, 2009
horrific moments like this one betray the subtle nuances
a cleansing fire


Let the Right One In opens with Oskar, a shy and pale, sort of typical adolescent victim of the school bullies.  Oskar collects articles about murders and the macabre, stabs a tree with a knife while screaming, “squeal,” and reads books on morse code. 

Oskar meets Eli, the young vampire who moves into the apartment next door.  Eli’s servant, Hakan, is soon out in the night looking for blood to feed Eli.  We learn quickly that he is losing his ability to feed Eli, which leads to some very unsettling moments later in the movie. 

One particularly unsettling scene takes place in the local high school while two friends are waiting for the third.  The victim hangs helplessly upside down awaiting his fate while his two friends, right outside the door, are calling for him.  Hakan, like Eli and Oskar, is sad and broken, and each attempt to feed his master exposes his futility.  This is a major plot point as her servant’s recent incompetence forces Eli into some desperate moments.

Caught in the act

caught in the act

So we have parallel stories, and Alfredson paces the film more like a drama than a horror movie. The relationship between 12 year old Oskar and 12 year old Eli works on the premise that these are just two children slowly getting to know eachother.  The fact that Eli feeds on human blood is something that the audience is aware of, and the genius of the movie is that we come to love Eli for her simple purity. Lina Leandersson, who plays Eli, is brilliant in a role that demands moments of brutality followed by moments of innocence and intimacy.

As her relationship with Oskar intensifies, she tries to help him build the courage to fight back against the school bullies, and a powerful scene is built off of this idea. Oskar, played with subtlety and sensitivity by Kare Hedebrant, never plays the victim, and is courageous in some ways even before he meets Eli.  But Eli empowers him, and when Oskar does reluctantly fight back, it only shows us that he is not capable of the brutality inflicted upon himself.  He is innocence. He is good.  There is no evil in him.

It is the bullies who are the film’s evil characters, and not the vampire who savagely attacks her food sources, not the servant who somewhat reluctantly packs his tools before leaving on his murderous quest to acquire blood, or Oskar who keeps a scrapbook of the murderous deeds he finds splattered across the daily papers.  Each of the main characters acts out of a sense of responsibility, a sense of empathy, and so it is that true horror, according to Alfredson, is in the senseless and weak who act aggressively out of a need to satisfy a selfish insecurity.   This underlying theme holds the movie together; and as we move toward the movie’s conclusion, it is these moments that make it all work.

what is true evil?

what is true evil?

Let the Right One In is a character study, with moments of horrific brutality; but movies like this do not come around very often.  Let the Right One In is currently undergoing an Americanization;  I just hope that those whose first experience with this story is the American version will be treated to the same restrained, subtle storytelling of the original.

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