Oskar (Kare Hedebrant) is a weird kid whose obsession with death makes him a ripe target for Eli (Lina Leandersson), a mysterious new neighbor who only comes out at night. It’s a vampire.
Eli’s caretaker, Hakan (Per Ragnar), moves her from place to place posing as her father, but he actually murders young men for it to devour.
He’s getting old, and clumsy. It’s never clear how long the two have been together, or the nature of his devotion to it: Is he a pedophile, or was he once seduced by it when he was young, left to cling to a pure childhood devotion? If the latter, is his life Oskar’s future as the young boy becomes closer and closer to his violent new companion?
Ambiguity defines Eli. Eli explicitly tells Oskar that they aren’t a girl – and given that a vampire isn’t human, it’s difficult to prescribe any kind of gender to the character. Eli owns many valuable items, seemingly accumulated over a lifetime, inspires the devotion of Hakan, and put off bloodlust for Oskar when tempted. It’s questionable if Eli has feelings or Oskar – or if they’re using him as a pawn, a tool, a mark.
What’s more important is Oskar’s love for Eli. There’s a potentially queer reading of the relationship – when he asks Eli to “go steady,” Eli says “I’m not a girl,” and Oskar does not care. His devotion is unrelenting. There are readings here that state Oskar doesn’t care because he’s queer, and I think that’s an interesting and important part of the movie’s mythology. A broader reading is that he doesn’t care because it just doesn’t matter to him, at his age. His devotion comes from the kind of intense place pre-sexual friendship springs from. I think that’s the ultimate tragedy, really: How many of us fall deeply, deeply in love with our first friends, more than we ever will with romantic or sexual partners, only to have our hearts broken so completely? That kind of love transcends gender norms, social acceptability.
If Eli doesn’t love Oskar, and If Hakan is Oskar’s future, what a horrible tragedy all of this is. That’s how vampire romance works, though — those creatures of the night never have your best interests at heart when they seduce you.
The script by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who wrote the source novel, is a strong one. Oskar and Eli become friends among a group of other tenants of their apartment complex, who slowly become collateral damage to their little romance. The characters develop deliberately and you get a very good sense of Oskar as someone to be both pitied and feared, a young boy of great an awful potential. And I would be remiss to end this without mentioning Tomas Alfredson’s direction and Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography, so deeply expressive in the bleak black winter with blinding white snow. It captures Oskar’s loneliness exquisitely. You can see your breath rising as the opening credits roll, and the chill never leaves you.
“Let the Right One In” is one of the finest vampire movies in the last decade.