Swedish vampire movie Let the Right One In arrives on a tide of positive film-festival buzz as the movie that unites horror fans and high-minded cinephiles. Oftentimes such movies turn out to be disappointingly bloodless, more concerned with the ennui of modern life than with monsters killing people. Right One has its fair share of angst, but it also has some startling, graphic gore, made all the more effective by the way director Alfredson often positions it right after a moment of emotional tenderness, or portrays it in a matter-of-fact fashion that belies its disturbing otherworldliness.
It helps that the main character is a 12-year-old boy, and children just seem more willing to accept the bizarre at face value. Oskar (Hedebrant) is a scrawny, shy kid who is invariably the victim of a group of bullies and appears to have no friends. One day while sitting in the snow-covered courtyard of his apartment building, he meets Eli (Leandersson), a girl who looks to be his age but never goes to school and only appears outside at night. Could there be something peculiar about her?
Alfredson and screenwriter John Ajvide Lindqvist (adapting his own novel) start by playing things coy, giving the impression that this might be one of those arty vampire movies like George Romero’s Martin or Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction that leaves open the question of whether the bloodthirsty main character is really a creature of the night. But that only lasts a short time, and just when you’re lulled into coming-of-age-drama security, Eli does something freaky like scamper vertically up a wall or violently chow down on one of the neighborhood residents.
The persistent gloom and omnipresent covering of snow give Right One a creepy, alien feel, and Hedebrant and Leandersson effectively capture two visions of childhood—the wide-eyed innocent and the wise-beyond-her-years realist. Of course, Eli is actually wise commensurate with her years, although she doesn’t always make the best decisions. Alfredson, too, sometimes overdoes the pretentious portent, and there’s one hint at a twist that’s never properly realized. But the ending is both sweet and unsettling, illustrating the way that rash childhood decisions can easily lead to a lifetime either of satisfaction or regret.