Today, the worlds of the Final Girl Film Club and Film Appreciation collide as Cody Hamman discusses Let the Right One In (2008).
Set in 1982 Sweden during the darkness and desolation of a snowy winter, Let the Right One In centers on a lonely, emotionally damaged twelve-year-old boy named Oskar.
Oskar doesn't seem to have any friends. At school, he is relentlessly physically and verbally bullied. He doesn't stand up for himself, he just takes all the abuse that is given to him. His parents are divorced and he lives in an apartment complex with his single mother. When he gets to visit his father at his home in the country, they have fun hanging out together, at least until his father's drinking buddy shows up. Then the alcohol wins out over paying attention to Oskar.
His broken home life and nightmarish school days have made Oskar a little "off", he collects newspaper clippings of murders and when he's alone he pretends to confront his tormentors with a knife.
Oskar is out in the courtyard playing out one of his revenge fantasies and stabbing a tree when he first encounters Eli, a strange girl who has just moved into his apartment building. He's fascinated by her from the moment she tells him, out of nowhere, "I can't be your friend." Despite Eli's statement, she and Oskar quickly do become friends, meeting up in the courtyard, communicating through the walls of their apartments by tapping in Morse code. Oskar has soon developed a sweet, innocent case of first love.
But Eli isn't a normal girl. She looks like she's the same age as Oskar, she tells him that she's twelve, "more or less", but she is eternally twelve. She's a vampire, and the older man she lives with isn't her father, he's a caretaker who goes out and kills people to get blood for her... At least that has been his job, nowadays he's pretty incompetent at it. His screw-ups kick off a chain of events that could change Oskar and Eli's lives forever.
I love this movie, it's one of my all-time favorites and has been since the night I was lucky enough to see a theatrical screening of it at an all-night horror marathon in October of 2008. It's the rare horror film that I firmly believe should've gotten an Academy Award. Excellently directed by Tomas Alfredson and written by John Ajvide Lindqvist (based on his novel), it should've been up for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. Unfortunately, its country of origin - Sweden - didn't even submit it for consideration. Regardless, as far as I'm concerned, it was the best film of 2008.
It may be a horror film of the vampire subgenre, but the horror aspect is a minor element in my enjoyment. There are some great moments involving vampirism and bloodshed, but I mainly like the film because of its dark coming of age story and the amazing interaction between the two young leads, Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli.
Horror does not play into most of my favorite scenes, scenes like when Eli realizes that Oskar gets bullied at school and talks him into sticking up for himself for real, to hit back for the first time in his life. "Hit back. Hard." And the more people that are picking on him, the harder he should hit. It's a beautiful moment, and I just got choked up typing about it.
Beautiful is how I would describe the film overall, and the bond between Oskar and Eli is wonderful. Take away the fact that they're a twelve year old and a vampire and it's the sort of ideal relationship that anyone with issues hopes for - for someone who finds you feeling alone and messed up but still wants to be around you while you work things out, who'll be at your side rooting for you to stand up to your problems, and if your problems prove too great for you to handle on your own, "Then I'll help you. I can do that."
As such, I think this film is a great date movie. I showed Let the Right One In to a girl on one of the closest things I've had to a date in recent years. Watching it with that certain girl added impact to another one of my favorite scenes, the scene where Oskar asks Eli to be his girlfriend. Eli replies, "Can't we just keep things the way they are?" His back turned to Eli, Oskar allows his mouth to twitch in a show of his disappointment as he says, "I guess..." That was the relationship I had with the girl I was watching the movie with.
I should've been taking the title as advice about the situation, because pursuing that girl was definitely not letting the right one in. She wasn't around for much longer after that, but I've still got my copy of Let the Right One In to show to someone else someday.