A pale barely pubescent boy stands at the window in his baggy white briefs. The same boy is outside a while later, in the snowy courtyard of his sterile apartment complex somewhere in Sweden. A scraggly dark barely pubescent girl in dirty clothes, barefoot in the freezing snow, appears. The boy has a Rubik's Cube and offers it to her as a gift. He finds it hard to believe that she solves it overnight. She obviously knows more than she lets on. She might know so much that it's frightening.
If you rent this movie and watch it at home, do not make the unforgivable mistake I made. I found the set-up menu confusing and thought for the longest time that the only option to watch it in English was to watch the dubbed version. Do not try that. If you watch this movie in that format, you will hate it. Luckily, about halfway through, I discovered that you have to choose "Swedish" from Column A and "English subtitles" from Column B. All at once what had been a mediocre film became a masterpiece. I imagine I could go spend a couple of years learning Swedish and then it would be even better. However, even though that would be an interesting exercise and would allow me to revisit all the Ingmar Bergman films I've raved about all these years in order to see if they're even better than I thought, there's only so much time on this plane and learning Swedish isn't on the schedule anytime soon.
This love story about Oskar and Eli is based on the novel by John Ajvide Linqvist who also took on the job of writing the script. You can often tell just how much an author loves his work when he's given this chance. Linqvist loves this story a lot.
Released in 2008, this is 44-year old director Tomas Alfredson's first film of this type. Comedy has been the bulk of his previous work, much of it for TV. Some call this one a "horror" film, but I think that is way off base. I'd say it's a dark romance. Perhaps that's the dynamic behind all this Twilight brouhaha. I don't know. I've never seen Twilight and don't plan to any time soon. Anyway, Alfredson has two kids, 16 and 18, so I suppose they've watched Twilight and I'm sure he wanted them to see what he'd done with the premise. However, I would not suggest letting kids any younger than that watch this movie. The film may be about 12-year olds, but it is not for 12-year olds to see.
Speaking of Bergman, the loneliness that was at the heart of his best work is a major character in Let the Right One In. Oskar is one of those kids who would probably, despite having a good heart, been tormented into doing something Columbinishly ridiculous in order to find a way to deal with his loneliness. As for Eli, when you've been 12 years old for decades . . . let's just say that loneliness is pretty much the essence of the vampire life, unless you're a character in a lost boys-type film about vampire bordellos and gambling clubs. I find those sorts of vampire movies tedious. I was raised reading and being scared shitless by Bram Stoker as a fairly lonely 12-year old myself. Maybe right there you have the single reason this movie meant more to me that I can explain in words. Let's just say that this is the greatest vampire movie ever made.
About the only quirk in this minor miracle of a movie that I found hard to swallow was the ambiguity about whether or not Eli is actually a girl. Apparently there's a lot more backstory to this in the novel. I think it would have been generous on Linqvist's part to just let that go and not expect to explain it in the film. It's not adequately explained, and it doesn't add any depth to the concept when you have to tell the story in less than two hours. More importantly, the scene with the little girl's privates is just frankly inexplicable.
When the end comes and you realize what has just happened, the totally played and perfectly happy Oskar is tapping on a case in a moving train. This train is taking him away from his dubious family and his school and everything else he once knew as familiar. He and Eli have been using Morse code to communicate between two walls in the apartment complex in Sweden. Now, in the last scene, they are tapping out the letters for "small kiss". Small kiss, indeed. And a very large kiss-off to his life as he knew it.
Young girls. What can you do? We all fall hard. Some harder than others.