Goth Weekend is coming shortly to Whitby with its Victorian ruffles and coquettish corsetry and it’s worth remembering that drinking blood is actually not that wholesome or hygeinic. It probably makes your breath smell a bit, and for every meal there remains a corpse to be disposed of. The Swedish film Let The Right One In (2008) places a 12 year old girl vampire (Lina Leandersson as Eli) in a tawdry nordic housing block.
An older man claiming to be her father, but clearly there as a guardian and provider, collects blood on her behalf by hanging victims upside down over a funnel and a plastic container, then slitting their jugulars. If she goes without blood she begins to rot and smell. If forced to search for food herself she becomes feral and vicious, so there is none of the seduction and submission which is such a staple ingredient of Dracula type vampirism. Instead it is animalistic and brutal.
Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is a blond, fair skinned, bullied boy who lives with his mum in a small apartment in the block. Eli and Oskar gravitate towards each other and form a bond. Both are outsiders in their own way and both need each other to assist in the fight against their respective demons. The performances of the two young leads are superb and understated and form the centre of this cold world.
Visually most of the lines in the picture are horizontal or vertical, hardly ever diagonal or curved. Even the trees seem rigid and perpendicular. There is no sumptuousness, no castles, no billowing curtains, just acres of snow, concrete, glass and a most uninviting bar. Despite the fact that a lot of people must live there, hardly anyone goes out and the exteriors are largely deserted and lonely.
We never learn Eli’s origin, or that of the man who acts as her guardian for that matter who comes to a grisly end when a blood collecting foray goes wrong and the little girl, having no one else to turn to, strengthens her bond with Oskar. There is just the brief hint that Eli was once a boy, though this is never really explored in the film, although I believe it plays a larger part in the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (2004).
After turning on the ringleader of the bullies and clouting him round the ear with a stick, we know for sure that trouble will surely be visited on Oskar by way of revenge. When it does occur we also assume that, with the help of Eli, he will somehow escape the full force of the cruelty. Indeed this happens, but in such an unexpected, silent, visually surprising way that it seems poetic.
It reminded me in spirit of George Romero’s Martin (1978), a picture that also took vampirism out of its gothic setting and dropped it into small town Pennsylvania in the mid 70’s. If you choose to watch Let The Right One In have some warm blankets, a thermos and a wooly hat on stand-by. Oh, and cancel those swimming sessions you had booked for next week. You won’t want them after this.