The story of Oskar and Eli is beautiful yet simple. Oskar is a human child who is being bullied by his classmates at school. Eli is a vampire who has to constantly struggle with that curse. Let the Right One In answers this question: If a child vampire wanted to make friends with a human child, how would that play out? However, the art of navigating that question with a great story requires a delicate balance between familiarity of vampire culture and strong character dynamic.
Tomas Alfredson is the director of this Swedish film, and he does an excellent job of interpreting this story for the screen. The camera is placed masterfully to show us the violence that happens in the shadows. The suspense inherent to this genre is palpable as the camera slowly turns a corner and a new horror awaits. This dark gruesomeness juxtaposed with closely shot scenes of vulnerability and human connection allows the viewer to truly live on the same emotional plane as the two main characters and admire this seemingly realistic world where vampires exist. Ultimately, it is the allure of vampire culture that keeps our interest. The rules are laid out before us one by one. A vampire can do this, but not that.
The trap is that each scene could mistakenly be interpreted as just one in a series of stepping stones forming a path; at the end of this path lies the answer to the question: How will he react when he finds out she is a vampire? That is not how this movie unravels, though. In this movie, each scene lives in its own world as an iconic image; the stuff of greatness. Whenever two friends who have seen Let the Right One In get together and their conversation inevitably turns toward the film, there will likely be a whole lot of remember whens: “Remember when she baited the neighbor under the bridge?”, “Remember when the man poured the acid on his face?”, etc…
Let the Right One In could be seen as a mere audio-visual encyclopedia of the vampiric were it not for the filmmaker’s true intention behind dishing out each morsel of lore piecemeal. Namely, to show us gradually that each rule is yet another obstacle that creates a wider gap between who Oskar and Eli are at the very core of their being. For most traditional story characters, their main struggle is one of many variations of the fight between Good and Evil— deciding between right and wrong against adversity. The central tension between Oskar and Eli, however, arises from their similarities and differences. What will eventually draw them together or tear them apart? They are both in the throes of an existential crisis. They both come from a place of hardship. They both have a complicated history with the other people in their lives. They are both in need of love.
Mixing romance and horror can be tricky territory, but Let the Right One In does it well. It is the strong character dynamic that makes this movie powerful. Imagine the characters in your life being background noise to the strongest relationship you could ever have with another person. That is how the secondary characters weave in and out of the story of Oskar and Eli. They are wisping through the movie like afterthoughts. The two children are like the Sun, and the supporting cast orbit around them. It’s a beautiful slow dance to watch on screen.
The movie opens with Oskar perched behind the foggy glass of his bedroom window wielding a knife. He is removed from the neighborhood outside. He is alone. It is night. He is as white and blurry as a ghost. Maybe he is more similar to Eli than we think. Let the Right One In is about Oskar’s journey. Eli is his Muse. She enters the movie immediately and begins the process of changing his life. Because Oskar is just a child, the process may be too disruptive for an innocent mind. There is danger and there is darkness. There is neither Good, nor Evil— only the hard truth of what needs to be done in order to survive.
To create a powerful character dynamic is to come to terms with the inevitable. It was inevitable that Romeo and Juliet had a passion too strong for this world to handle. It was inevitable that Luke and Vader had a bond that heightened the other-worldly stakes. When you see what is in store for Eli and Oskar, it will be satisfying within the scope of the inevitable. Beautiful yet simple.