Let the Right One In, currently on release in the UK, is a subtitled Swedish art house film set in the early ’80s in an impoverished suburban setting, thick with snow and ice. The main character is a 12 year old boy with a perpetually runny nose whose parents are separated, his father an alcoholic. Dialogue is sparse and the bulk of the story is taken up by a schoolboy’s struggle against some playground bullies. The critics are loving it. I thought it was ok.
The film is probably a victim of its own hype. Heavily postered across the Underground and with the likes of Mark Kermode and Kim Newman raving about it at every opportunity, I felt a bit guilty when I found myself bored for a good half of the film, which is bleak in tone and monosyllabic in voice, and the characters’ endless trudging through the snow mirrored what it felt like to get to the more interesting parts of the film. Trudge, trudge, trudge.
At its heart, the film isn’t really about vampirism; it’s not about Eli the vampire girl and it’s definitely not a horror film, hiding its horrors within the dreary normality of a working-class community. Instead, it’s a love story between a couple of 12 year olds from dysfunctional backgrounds, one of whom helps the other to overcome the school bullies. And that’s fine, you know, it’s sweet and touching and innocent and if you subtracted the vampire aspects you could happily show the film on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday on Channel 4 at 2:30 in the afternoon and the only people who would watch it would be bored schoolkids who were trying desperately to bridge the gap between lunchtime Neighbours and Children’s BBC.
But it isn’t just that story; it’s a vampire story as well, and there’s some interesting stuff here, genuinely adding fresh ideas to the cinematic vampire canon, including a gruesome reveal showing us what happens when a vampire enters a house uninvited, and the relationship between the ancient child vampire and those she enlists to help her feed. Lina Leandersson who plays Eli turns in a beautiful performance, subtle and terrifying at times and sweet and childlike at others, and Per Ragnar as Eli’s elderly carer Håkan also gives us subtle hints of a relationship far more one-sided than is initially seen. When Håkan is unable to provide for Eli, the film takes on a welcome, darker tone as Eli is forced to find sustenance for herself.
I liked these parts of the film far more than the others; I just don’t care about a love story between two 12 year olds that barely speak. I didn’t care at the start and I saw nothing that made me care by the end; I’m not saying that’s not a fault with the film as such – there are many things I don’t care about, such as the Grand Prix and sushi, and I don’t fault them for that either – but I don’t think it makes particularly interesting cinema unless you’re actually a 12 year old yourself (or a professional film critic). I cared far more about the relationship between Eli and Håkan, and Eli’s history, hinted at only by the presence of a priceless Faberge Egg in her possession, and the reaction from the local community to the deaths amongst them, but that unfortunately wasn’t the film I saw.