An American horror girl to my core, I rarely take on foreign horror. I mean, that’s what I have Keith for. Sometimes, though, I hear of films through Keith or the grapevine and I cross the pond (figuratively) and see what’s happening with horror in other countries. Let the Right One In, released in 2008 out of Sweden, is the tragic tale of Oskar and Eli. Both lonely 12-year-olds (more or less), Oskar and Eli become friends during a cold winter and even fall in young love. Over the course of their courtship, suspicious things happen and Oskar learns that Eli is a vampire. Beautifully shot, written (this one has subtitles!) and acted, Let the Right One In sets the standard for tragic, sad horror. And it certainly brought life back to a creature that’s been dabbling in other genres for a while now.
What separates great horror from horrible horror? I’ll tell you one thing and it’s character development. Often in this genre, characters are being axed before viewers even know their names, let alone their stories, hopes, dreams. This film takes its time and builds these two characters effortlessly, to the point where the viewer is just as in love with them as they are with each other. The film develops Oskar as a lonely boy who is terribly bullied by his classmates, creating a similar situation as that in Carrie. Audiences will have no trouble backing Oskar, just as they had no trouble backing Carrie. And while Oskar doesn’t succumb to quite the rampage Carrie does, he does fight back and I was cheering him on every time. And then there’s Eli, who is both beautiful and ugly all at the same time. Without a consistent supply of blood, which she acquires with the help of her caretaker who is an old man, Eli starts to smell and her appearance becomes very unhealthy looking. She always appears bedraggled, walking around barefoot and barely clothed. Despite this and the fact that she kills innocent people, the audience can’t help but see her through Oskar’s eyes. We see her as a sad, lonely girl who just needs a friend.
And this is the true success of this film. It pools together a collection of traits rarely seen in a horror film. Eli is both a villain and a victim. Oskar is lonely and brave. There are gory scenes, for sure, and this film doesn’t attempt to soften the horror of vampires. Traditional folklore such as needing blood to survive, not being able to go out in the sunlight and needing an invitation to enter someone’s house are all in place. When Eli is a vampire and not just the girl Oskar loves, she is scary. The setting of this film is scary; it is freezing and white snow coats everything. There is something both lonely and frightening about the cold. This movie never sacrifices its story or characters for a scare and the time it takes to build and culminate is well worth it.
This not the kind of horror film you jump out of your seat watching or the kind that gives you nightmares. But it is scary and in a rare way - a sad, sad scary. This movie is emotional and frightening, sending viewers on a ride they’ll not forget. This is the kind of horror film that can gross you out one minute and break your heart the next. The only reason this movie didn’t receive a ten is because it’s not one you can watch over and over. It’s just too sad to keep watching, but rewatchability is not the one and only thing that makes a horror great.
It’s difficult to find anything bad to say about Let the Right One In. This film surprised me in the best way and left me feeling so much after it was over. With so many horror films, I feel nothing afterward and even struggle to remember the film days later. Not the case with this one. I’ll always think of Let the Right One In with a hole of sadness in my heart and a fond memory of vampires. While Eli may not be able to go toe-to-toe with the big villains on horror island, she has the power to make them fall in love with her and eventually break their hearts.
If you liked Let the Right One In, you might also like Let Me In and Dracula.