For someone who watches billions of movies each year, it gets increasingly tough to be really floored by anything in any genre. Let the Right One In is one of those rare few to rise above the fold and impress itself indelibly into my gray matter. The greatest vampire movie ever made? I wouldn't presume to say that, but this masterpiece by Tomas Alfredson certainly belongs in the discussion.
Many vampire movies come with a certain built-in campiness and set of cliches. This fangless, stakeless, crucifixless, brutal, gentle, heartbreaking poem of a film takes great pains to avoid them. For example: rarely do we associate the word vampire with Sweden, but from the first time you hear the endless unmelting frozen snow crunching beneath boots, you realize what a perfect locale it is. Because vampires have it pretty bad (except Dracula, of course, who can seduce any babe at any time). They can't die, can't be in the sun, and they can't really reveal themselves to the world, which makes the sucking of human blood all the more complicated. All told, Sweden provides a pretty desolate setting to match a pretty desolate condition.
Now imagine a twelve-year-old in this situation. As if being twelve isn't confusing enough, our undead female lead, Eli, has to deal with the trauma of perpetual prepubescence. Wanna talk about horror? Imagine being a seventh-grader for all eternity. "I've been twelve for a long time," she tells Oskar, the bullied, white-faced waif of a male lead. We never do get told exactly how long that is, but Oskar doesn't seem to care. He's found a fellow outcast, one who teaches him to embrace his vengeful longings. They fall in love, and in the nick of time because Eli's aging mortal companion, sent out to fetch fresh blood in the night, is past his prime. His blunders make him expendable to Eli, whose vulnerability requires competence, vigilance and the utmost devotion. People go to great lengths in the name of love. Few are willing to kill for it.
Does this make Oskar a victim of Eli's manipulation? Who knows how many of these caretakers she has seduced, loved and tossed aside along the way. The temptation is to see Oskar as simply the next in line; when he grows old, he too will be discarded. That's a grim outlook, and it would probably be the correct one if the scenes between these kids weren't so filled with tenderness, empathy and compassion (and, man, do these actors pull it off). It's not so much how badly Eli and Oskar need each other, it's how badly they want each other. Watch the incredible, incredible climax and ask yourself whether Eli really loves Oskar. Imagine their temporary future together and ask whether it will be worth it. These questions are the crux of the film. Should we sympathize with monsters? I have my opinion (hell yes!), you'll have yours, but what a feat that Alfredson can make us question what amounts to pretty fundamental morality. We all know it's not ok to kill, and yet, and yet...
Official McBone Rating: 5.0 McBones.