When I reviewed Lolita, I discussed predatory grooming of children, and in my review of The Vampire Diaries, I made it crystal clear that even in the fictional situation where one partner is decades older but still appears to be the same age as their human love interest, it is just as wrong, if not more so. Let the Right One In is a horror film, and one of the most terrifying I’ve ever see. Its classification as a “romantic horror”, however, may be one of the more frightening aspects of the film.
Let the Right One In centers around the grooming of a friendless, bullied, and largely neglected 12-year old boy named Oskar (Kare Hadebrant). Oskar lives in a Stockholm suburb with his single mother and occasionally goes to visit his alcoholic father in the countryside. Neither parent is truly emotionally invested in Oskar’s well-being, and it’s obvious to both him and the audience. As a result, he doesn’t tell either about the fact that he’s being bullied both verbally and physically at school. Oskar’s life is painfully lonely at best and dangerously brutal at worst, and it’s at his lowest point that he meets Eli (Lina Leandersson).
Eli moves into Oskar’s apartment building with an older man whom Oskar assumes to be her father and, upon their meeting, informs Oskar that they cannot be friends, something which immediate hurts and peaks the interest of the chronically friendless child, especially when, contrary to this statement, Eli takes an interest in and begins spending a lot of time with him. We quickly learn that the dynamic between Eli and her presumed father, Hakan(Per Ragnar), is not what it appears to be. On their first night at the building, Hakan does something which it appears he’s had a lot of practice doing: He leaves late at night, kills a man and drains him, collecting his blood in a pail. But because of his age and the strenuous labour involved, the old man spills what we later learn is Eli’s dinner. This is when Oskar and the audience alike hear a side of Eli that, for the duration of the film, Oskar never sees, one who is cruel, angry, desperate, and intimidating to her companion The Eli that Oskar experiences appears kind, compassionate, and supportive. But I call bullshit on all of that.
The film’s many context cues reveal that Eli is several centuries old. She may behave like a 12-year-old child (well, as much as someone who doesn’t attend school or wear shoes can), but she isn’t one, and in order to understand that Eli’s monstrosity is so much more than being a vampire, this must be understood. From their very first encounter, Eli was grooming Oskar to take over for the job of her now aged companion and caretaker, Hakan. Hakan has no life outside of working and killing to provide for Eli. No family or friends outside of her, and no possibility of ever having any, because keeping her secret is and always has been the top priority. Oskar is friendless and alone. Who better to take over the job that Hakan had been performing faithfully for decades? In the film, we see pictures which show that Eli has know Hakan since he was around Oskar’s age. She is a serial predator, and I don’t just mean eating people.
We learn that Eli is perfectly capable of hunting her own food, but her desire for companionship, and more importantly, not to have any blood on her hands, is the reason for grooming caretakers, young boys who haven’t really begun to live and therefore cannot possibly know just how much they are giving up to be with her. But she does. Eli, who (this bears repeating) is centuries old knows exactly what she is doing by recruiting Oskar. When you are young and suffering, it is easy to believe that life will always be this bad. But it probably wouldn’t have been for Oskar. Eli stole his youth and his opportunities when she came into his life, because she placed him in a position where protecting her became the only way to show her how much he cared, and do so simultaneously further isolated him.
Though our protagonist shows a violent streak early on, fantasizing about and acting out revenge against his bullies, and collecting newspaper clippings of murders, Oskar is far from evil. He is hurt and confused, and merely wants to be seen, heard, and accepted. When Eli presents a “solution” to his bully issues, not only does she exacerbate them, she places him in a position to need her help, and solves the problem in such a way that he has no choice but to leave with her, and continue on in toxic love with her. Like many predators and exploiters of children, Eli is fascinated with every detail of Oskar’s life, encouraging him to confide in her, but rarely gives him much information on her own, other than to admit that she is very old, and that she’s not really a girl.
Whether it because she is a vampire, or because, in Hakan, we see a preview of the small, bleak, murderous future that lays in store for Oskar, watching Let the Right One In and seeing this young boy become further captivated by Eli is heartbreaking to watch. Had Eli truly been the kind, compassionate, and supportive person that Oskar thought her to be, she would have left him alone, helping him from behind the scenes if she felt so inclined. No one with actual love for another would have pursued the sort of relationship that they would ultimately have, one where he must sacrifice the lives of others for her.
Let the Right One In is the ultimate worst-case scenario of what could happen when a child has no support and no anchor for so long, that they eagerly run into the trap of the first abusive, toxic person who shows them any facsimile of love. Despite her age, and being a vampire, Eli had retained enough humanity over the course of her long life to know just how to manipulate Oskar into willingly turning his back on his life (and any hope of a better life) for her. Watching him make several choices which chip away at his innocence while bonding him closer to her is like watching a slow-motion car crash; we know it’s coming but there’s nothing that can stop it. Seeing this child throw his life away for someone who is a monster in every sense of the word is heartbreaking. Both this and the equally stunning American-British remake, Let Me In, are horror gems, which are perfectly cast and filmed, captivating from beginning to end. Based on the gripping (and much more detailed) novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In is horrible, traumatizing, beautiful, and mesmerizing.
I give this one 5 stars.