I’ve grown disgusted with vampire movies over the past few years. Now that the simpering Gap models of “Twilight” have taken over, with their finicky diets and childish crushes, I’m about ready to put a stake in the heart of the entire genre. Bela Lugosi must be rolling in his crypt right now. Assuming he’s still in it.
And yet, I come to praise a recent vampire movie that also blends romance and horror. Unlike “Twilight,” it succeeds. It’s moving, it’s horrifying and it’s somehow believable. “Let the Right One In,” a Swedish film released last year, is the most engrossing movie I’ve seen in many months — and that includes quite a few that didn’t involve the undead.
Briefly, it’s set in 1982 Stockholm, where the misfit boy Oskar has become the target of bullies. You can see why: He’s a pale, sensitive lad who seems barely strong enough to lift his own limbs. He goes out at night to role-play some revenge, jamming his little knife into a tree and reciting the litany of insults his tormentors have just inflicted on him. When he turns around, there’s a girl watching him from the jungle jim. It’s snowy out, and bitter cold, but she’s not wearing a coat. More importantly, she doesn’t seem to need one.
Oskar’s new friend is Eli, who turns out to be quite strong, quite a climber and quite adept at solving a Rubik’s cube. On the downside, she can’t stand daylight and can’t enter a dwelling without being invited. When her true nature begins to dawn on Oskar midway through the film, he asks if she’s very old. “I’m 12,” she says. “But I’ve been 12 for a long time.”
If the movie were only about vampire puppy love, it would get old a bit more quickly than Eli. But director Tomas Alfredson creates a cold, dark Stockholm where despair and foreboding seem to haunt every shadow. And Eli isn’t one of those vampire vegetarians, like the dopey Edward Cullen in “Twilight.” She needs to feed, and it isn’t pretty. That’s another thing I like about this movie: It remains true to the conventions of genre even while giving its vampire some sympathetic qualities.
Even if you don’t like vampire movies, you might like this one. It’s subtitled, but that doesn’t matter, right? Dave Bob says check it out.