Somewhere in the suburbs of Stockholm, where the winter days are short and the nights are fit for all manner of nocturnal animals, two 12-year-olds trace lonely, separate paths.
Latchkey kid Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a pale, awkward child, perpetually bullied by other boys. He notices the new girl who moves into the apartment next door, and wonders whether they might be friends.
That’s going to be tricky. She is Eli (Lina Leandersson), a dark soul who doesn’t look like she belongs in this clean, cold, IKEA-made world. And indeed she does not.
As we glean early on in “Let the Right One In,” Eli is a vampire, and is much older than 12. She’s responsible for the rash of local bloodlettings, yet she takes a shine to the hapless Oskar — who looks like his blood is so thin it’s hardly worth biting him.
Based on a novel by screenwriter John Ajvide Lindquist, “Let the Right One In” is so attuned to adolescent anxiety it could be a really good Young Adult novel, were it not for the occasional bouts of violent bloodsucking.
Director Tomas Alfredson understands that the only way to play the material is cool and controlled. He doesn’t hype anything here, and some of the most disturbing moments are played in long shot, which just makes them all the more painful to watch.
Alfredson seems to have composed the film in variations of wintry blue-white, so when a splash of red periodically intrudes on the scene, it’s all the more startling. This is an elegant film, but not so refined that Alfredson won’t get crazy at a moment’s notice (especially during a swimming-pool scene that qualifies as an instant pulp classic).
That scene is both chilling and oddly funny, as is much of the picture. There’s an undercurrent of black comedy that runs through the movie, but it never becomes remotely campy.
For such a modern movie, Lindquist’s script uses a number of ultra-traditional vampire conventions; particular significance is given to the idea that a vampire cannot enter a home unbidden, but must be invited in. The vampire genre is so familiar that variations on it had better have something going for them, lest they disappear into the already-crowded field.
Novelty alone won’t do it, but the combination of frosty Sweden, lonely adolescents and deadpan humor will. “Let the Right One In” is eerie proof that the vampire genre has not yet been drained dry.