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After reading my confession a few weeks ago that I’m a huge scaredy-cat and have only seen five horror movies in my lifetime, you might be surprised to learn that I added a sixth to the list last night: Let the Right One In. I had simply heard way too much positive buzz about this film (and a remake is already in the works?!?) to let my wimpiness get in the way of judging for myself whether its hype is deserved. I just figured that I would cover my eyes. A lot.
It turns out that I didn’t have to. Even though this story of the bond between a twelve-year-old boy, Oskar (Kâre Hedebrant), and a twelve-year-old ("more or less") female vampire, Eli (Lina Leandersson), definitely had its bloody moments, the vast majority of the film focused on how the duo’s individual struggles could be lessened by their budding friendship. Oskar, continually bullied at school, learns to stick up for himself courtesy of Eli’s instruction. And Eli, who suffers an extremely isolated existence as she waits time and time again for her caretaker to secure her next, uh, "meal," is quietly obsessed with the adoration that her young friend (who hasn’t figured out her secret) showers upon her.
While Oskar is slow — or perhaps reluctant — to put the mysterious pieces of Eli’s life together (why doesn’t she go to school? Why isn’t she affected by the freezing Swedish winter?), others in their dreary apartment complex are growing increasingly frightened by the slew of murders in the surrounding area. It’s only a matter of time before Eli either gets caught or has to leave Oskar forever in order to move on to the next unsuspecting neighborhood.
Let the Right One In is perhaps the strangest good movie I’ve seen in the past few years (as opposed to the strange bad movies I’ve had the displeasure of watching — You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, War, Inc., etc.). While 85% of the film’s nearly two-hour running time was captivating, a few scenes shattered the mesmerizing hold that the story had on its audience because of their low-quality special effects or outrageous unbelievability (one involves a particularly bizarre animal attack). These schlocky moments elicited laughter in my theater, and I guarantee you that was not the reaction the director intended to provoke. But all in all, the "huh?" instances were greatly outweighed by the power of Hedebrant and Leandersson’s performances, the sparse, haunting scenery and the thought-provoking plot. And oddly enough, there were other special effects that looked flawless — the first time the audience saw proof of Eli’s supernatural ways, I wasn’t the only one in the crowd who gasped.
I almost forgot to mention that Let the Right One In is in Swedish and therefore has subtitles. But honestly, the dialogue is so sparse that the captions on-screen didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the story in the slightest. (To get a feel for the film, check out its trailer here).
As I left the theater last night, I overheard some of my fellow patrons asking each other the kind of "why didn’t they just do this?" questions that inevitably arise after watching almost any horror or action movie. Those conversations frustrated me, because the point of Let the Right One In was not to determine whether a young vampire girl could really get away with a killing spree across suburban Sweden. It was to make you think about both Oskar and Eli’s motivations for befriending one another, and to give insight into just how far a lonely soul might go to keep his (or her) only companion safe.
If you can deal with seeing lots of blood on-screen (there was fair warning before any violent scenes) and are looking for a twist on the traditional vampire tale… or are in the mood for a very out-of-the-ordinary love story, then I highly recommend Let the Right One In. Both heartbreaking and chilling, it is a film I won’t soon forget. Especially since I can now brag that I’ve seen SIX scary movies!