Jenny Turner recently wrote in the LRB about Stephenie Meyer’s series of vampire novels and the film based on the first of them, Twilight. ‘”I wish I could be a vampire,” I actually said out loud at one point.’ It’s a sentiment few people are likely to express after seeing Tomas Alfredson’s beautiful and disturbing Låt den rätte komma in, which goes on general release in the UK today as Let the Right One In.
It’s set in a suburb of Stockholm in the winter of 1982. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), an ethereal blond 12-year-old, the only child of separated and neglectful parents, is being bullied at school. Håkan (Per Ragnar), a middle-aged man, and Eli (Lina Leandersson), a girl Oskar’s age, have just moved into the flat next door. At night Håkan heads out into the snow with his sinister leather bag of tricks: a funnel, a mask, a knife, a dirty two-gallon plastic bottle and a jar of nasty looking liquid. He’s an incompetent murderer, repeatedly interrupted in his nocturnal bloodletting. And when he fails to bring home the bacon, Eli has to go out foraging for herself. (‘Are you a vampire?’ Oscar asks her at one point. ‘I live off blood,’ she replies. ‘Are you dead?’ he asks. ‘No. Can’t you tell?’)
She is a monster, of course, but like all the best monsters in the movies, she’s one you find yourself rooting for. Not because you see the world through her eyes, but because you see it through it Oskar’s. And as far as he’s concerned, the boys who torment him at school are the monsters, while Eli, who befriends and protects him, is more like an angel. As the story unfolds, however, it gradually becomes apparent that Eli is grooming Oskar for a wretched future. Near the beginning of the film, Håkan tells her to stay away from the boy. It’s all too easy to mistake his motives for jealousy.
Håkan goes out collecting blood for Eli because if she bites people she infects them with her vampirism; his draining the victims first is a form of damage limitation. She doesn’t want to kill people or turn them into vampires; she just needs to eat. An adult woman bitten by Eli chooses to kill herself rather than live as a vampire. It’s not a choice that ever seems to have crossed Eli’s mind.