Horror Month Day 23: Let the Right One In

This guest review is about the unique vampire movie Let the Right One in and comes to us from Katy Evans. Katy Evans is a writer, community advocate, Tacoma obsessive, and avid consumer of television and cocktails. Find more writing at postdefiance.com and follow her at @katynicoud

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Scary movies and horror movies have always fascinated and repelled me. Which is exactly their point, right?

I gravitate to the magicky/ghosty/demon/exorcism/wierding side of horror and, try as I might, really haven’t been able to build up a tolerance to slasher films. (Confession, I have never made it all the way through the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It is seriously the scariest 45 minutes of pop culture I’ve ever attempted to endure.)

I also often prefer a non-American perspective. The Guillermo del Toro-style ghost stories, some of the more stomach-curdling french horror (the murdery lady-style ones, not the rapey ones) and of course, the Nordic perspective that brought us the stunning Let the Right One In are my real jam.

In fact, Let the Right One In continues to be not only my favorite horror movie, it’s also my favorite movie of, oh, the last 10 years. So for this contribution to the Robot’s Pajamas horror pantheon, here’s my love letter to Eli and Oskar.

Let the Right One In movie poster

Let the Right One In is very possibly my favorite example of how the complexity of love, change, and tragedy can be explored through genre – and this element happens to be one of the reasons I love genre so much.

The dubious subset of horror that is the vampire movie by and large pretty much sucks (hilarious!) yet the fascination of humans personifying apex predators complete with immortality and some serious teeth endures. Despite all the Twilight garbage, every once in a while something special can crop up.

I don’t know if it’s just a weird jealousy we have toward the purity of a carnivorous lifestyle or the idea that if we try hard enough we can live forever by stealing the life force of others, or maybe some combination of the two, but vampires mean something to the psyche of humans. So what does that mean when we explore it in kids?

Before we move on, quick basic plot free of serious spoilers: it’s the 80s in Sweden. Preternaturally blonde, diminutive 12 year-old boy Oskar is obsessed with serial killers, police procedure, and is regularly bullied. One day he meets a creepy-beautiful raven-haired, seemingly also 12 year-old, seemingly girl named Eli. Turns out Eli is an immortal child vampire with a sad, sad old man in tow who does most of her dirty work (see food acquisition/murder) because he unrequitedly loves her. Now watch it to see the captivating narrative unfold.

Let the Right One In's Oskar and Eli

Let the Right One In (2008) is as much about adolescence, acceptance, and love as it is about murder and vampires. The movie is regularly lumped into an even more specific genre called “romantic horror” and although I get why, what stands out to me most is not the “romantic” tension between Eli and Oskar, but instead the love, loyalty, and family that develops.

Eli lives an impossible existence; a child vampire, she cannot sneak her way into the adult world, amass a fortune through various means of corporate or criminal subterfuge, and live out her existence in a remote and well-stocked castle, as we see with our traditional vampire models.

Eli’s only hope is to develop dangerous, unbalanced relationships that can help her secure sustenance and protection but will inevitably end in tragedy. This is the only way she can exist. And although she may be immortal, she appears childlike and in many ways lives her life like a child. She often operates without concern for consequences, she is not particularly articulate or expressive but is deeply curious and thoughtful; she can be playful, furious, unrelenting, and is fiercely loyal. Instead of growing more adult, she has instead grown more animalistic as she has lived through generations.

A victim in Let the Right One In

And Oskar, like Eli, has no place to fit in as he struggles with the transition of adolesence, and with his own curiosity about death and violence. Both of our main characters come together at a moment in time when they desperately need each other.

Eli needs a new companion as her current grows old, and Oskar needs a friend who understands him and can protect him. Their meeting and subsequent relationship is the doomed heart around whom this movie develops – adding to the delight of the film, the two young actors are hauntingly perfect in their chemistry and portrayals.

Yes, this is a movie about the relationship between a human boy and a vampire child – and at no moment did the movie apologize for the premise; it’s one of the most complex of imaginary relationships and the film’s creators only ever take it seriously. All the pathos is highlighted by the stark Swedish winter, by gruesome, violent, and desperate acts, and by a crescendoing of events to one of the most satisfyingly vengeful scenes I’ve ever seen.

Let the Right One In's pool scene

I love this movie and during this time of year I regularly revisit it, not only for the chilling, horror elements that I look for around Halloween, but also for the wintery, snowy setting, meaning if I need to, I can make it a winter/practically holiday movie. Sure, creepy, but I find holidays much improved with a little gore.

If you haven’t seen Let the Right One In, hop to it (and feel free to skip the book—too much is lost in translation.)