Several months ago, I remember hearing a movie reviewer say, “If you seen one teen vampire romance film this year, let it be Let The Right One In.” I figured that since the Bitch site has been entranced by Twilight for what feels like months now, it would be appropriate to give this film its proper dues.
Let The Right One In is a Swedish film set in the early 1980’s and focused on a 12-year-old loner named Oskar.
Besides having the world’s most awkward haircut, it is the intense bullying Oskar faces in school that captures the sympathy of its audience (or, at least, the former dodgeball-targets in attendance). While practicing an imagined violent confrontation of his bullies (involving him repeatedly stabbing a knife into a tree), Oskar’s new neighbor, Eli, appears behind him.
What follows is a raw depiction of teenage (tweenage?) companionship. Eli and Oskar’s bond is formed over their shared outsider status and the pain that accompanies not belonging. What they find in each other is unconditional acceptance. Eli likes Oskar, despite his cowardly tendencies, and Oskar likes Eli, despite her being a vampire.
Eli is more or less the only vampire featured in Let The Right One In. Because of her presentation as female, it is difficult to not make a connection between her vampiric problems (blood and bleeding, fear of transformation, uncertainties of self) and those relating to her puberty (a stage that she will be in permanently). Eli is depicted as being powerful and dangerous, but never vilified. These images of her violent capabilities are woven in with scenes of her budding sexuality. She is unclear about her role in the world and recognizes her destructive potential. Let The Right One In may be ultimately centered on Oskar’s drama, but it does an amazing job of depicting the tumultuous and frequently disturbing experience of moving from girl to women.
As was pointed out in the comments section, while Eli is played by a female actress, the character’s gender identity is much more complex (a point that is possibly more elaborated on in the book). This brings in an additional discussion of sexuality and relationships, as Oskar’s devotion to Eli appears to transcend both vampirism and traditional gender roles. I strongly suggest reading Loren Krywanczyk’s review of the film for a more in depth look at this element of their relationship.
Watching Let The Right One In reminded me of conversations I had with a film professor last year regarding the potential for a feminist horror genre. Rather than using hours of film dedicated to torturing female victims for pleasure, Let The Right One In appropriately layers the horror and hardships of being/being with a vampire on top of society’s fear of girls in transition (not to mention fears of menstruation and lack of cleanliness). As mentioned earlier and pointed out in the comments section, while Eli’s gender may not be so clear cut, her presentation as female still brings up these questions of how the horror genre can be used to depict and address the horror of lived female experiences.
Let The Right One In might be hard to find outside of second-run theaters at this point, but it is definitely worth seeing. As further temptation, here is the trailer.