John Ajvide Lindqvist’s romantic horror novel Låt den rätte komma in represents one of the most original vampire stories of the new millennium. It combines the gothic tone and demonic overtones of Bram Stoker with arcs of tragedy and romance that at times feel almost Shakespearian. Such a strong story proved ripe for a cinematic adaptation, and courtesy of Tomas Alfredson, we got one. Let the Right One In is masterful not so much for its sense of dread, but for the way that it captures the tumultuous horror show of growing up as a social outsider.
Set in the 1980s under the cover of near-permanent snow, the film follows 12-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) – a bullied, meek boy who lives in a small Stockholm apartment with his mother. He meets Eli (Lina Leandersson), who it later emerges is a vampire. She helps Oskar to find the confidence to fight back and reclaim his early teenage years, and in the process the two develop a growing affection for one another that risks falling apart when Eli’s secret is revealed.
Attraction has always been a feature of vampire stories, from Dracula to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, almost always because the vampire’s kiss is one rife with sexual magnetism. To express this as an increasingly tight emotional bond, expressed less through physicality than it is through dialogue and a deeply affectionate relationship, is remarkably different. The film thrives not because of its creepy moments (although there are certainly plenty of these, the ending, in particular, proving to be a bit of a bloodbath), but because of the central bond between Oskar and Eli, for whom its suggested neither of them ever felt like they would even be capable of such feelings.
The film is a dream to look at, the blood jumping out amidst the largely grey and white colour scheme of urban Stockholm. The way the blood always jumps out at you is also a reminder of the passion Oskar and Eli share, and how it always affects the way they navigate new spaces together. Their love consistently jumps out against the cold backdrop, but then so does Eli’s constant need for blood, one of her misadventures almost coming back to bite her as the film approaches its climax. But Let The Right One In never forgets its place as, first and foremost, a horror film. When the gore comes, it is crunching and unforgiving. And it adds its own little slice to the history of vampire lore – when you don’t invite a vampire in, but they come in anyway, what happens? The result is as horrifying as it is profoundly original, the sound mixing with the visuals well enough to give you severe nausea.
The concept of Let The Right One In is so brilliant that even the American remake from a couple of years later proved to be a hit (it has also since been adapted into a stage play). Some criticised it for sticking too rigidly to Alfredson’s film, but why would you want to change a thing? As romantic horror arcs go, this is damn near perfection. One of the most low-key but ingenious horror films of recent times goes against the grain by finding a way into your heart without wanting to rip it out. There will never be anything quite like this ever again.