Let the Right One In is a 2008 Swedish romantic horror film that offers viewers a dark yet sentimental take on the classic vampire genre. Directed by Tomas Alfredson, the film centers around the budding relationship between Oskar, a lonely and bullied 12-year old boy, and Eli, a mysterious girl who moves into the apartment next door. However, Eli harbors a deadly secret – she is a vampire, dependent on killing humans for survival.
The film opens by introducing us to Oskar, who lives with his divorced mother in a depressed suburb of Stockholm in the 1980s. A pale, scrawny boy, Oskar is the constant target of bullies at school, but seems to find solace through acts of imagined revenge and playing with a knife in his room. Meanwhile, we meet Eli, who moves into the apartment next door to Oskar along with an older man named Håkan. Though Eli’s age is unclear, she seems to be about
When Oskar and Eli first meet, they form a timid yet intrigued bond. Their friendship intensifies when Eli joins Oskar standing up to the bullies one night, displaying shocking strength when she injures one of the boys. Through late night conversations outside on the jungle gym, Oskar falls for the odd yet captivating Eli. However, Eli reveals to Oskar that she is not a girl – she is “nothing.” In a pivotal scene, she shows Oskar her mutilated genitals, a product of a botched castration centuries ago. Eli was born male but lives as a girl – “but not a girl.”
The true horror of the film emerges when we learn that Eli can only survive by killing humans and draining their blood. Håkan, the older man, serves as her errand boy, gruesomely killing people and collecting their blood for her to drink. However, when Håkan fails in one of his murder attempts, Eli is forced to take matters into her own hands in a chilling scene where she murders a man in a public pool locker room. Despite her monstrous nature, Eli longs for companionship and is faced with an excruciating choice – continue to live in murderous isolation or die if she lets love in.
Oskar and Eli continue to grow closer, with Oskar promising to keep her deadly identity a secret. In a sweet scene, the two characters communicate through Morse code messages through the adjoining wall in their bedrooms. However, Eli’s survival remains threatened, especially when Håkan kills himself by lighting himself on fire before he can provide her next victim.
Things come to a dramatic and violent climax when Eli unleashes her vampiric powers against a group of teens who break into Oskar’s apartment. The slaughter seems to signify Eli’s choice – she cannot live among humans and must remain a ruthless killer to survive. The movie ends poignantly with Oskar on a train leaving town, tapping a morose farewell message to Eli on the window. While Eli cannot physically let Oskar into her life, he remains etched on her heart.
Let the Right One In succeeds through its novel take on the vampire mythos, replacing cheap scares with an atmospheric and unsettling mood. The film focuses more on yearning, loneliness, and first love rather than overt horror. Eli is not a conventional vampire villain – she is a complex, sympathetic figure cursed with an existence that makes her both predator and prey. Her growing love for Oskar offers a bittersweet spin on the limits of desire.
With its stark wintry setting and muted palette, Let the Right One In crafts a chilling world where innocence is corrupted by monstrosity. Stellar performances, especially by the two young leads, give the film an emotional weight beyond mere horror. The careful balance of tenderness and creepiness in Oskar and Eli’s burgeoning relationship lingers with the viewer long after the credits roll. While not for the faint of heart, Let the Right One In succeeds through sophisticated storytelling, making it one of the most unique and memorable vampire movies in recent memory.