Here’s the thing about vampire movies: lately, they have been creating a shameful reputation for themselves. From distasteful Underworld (2003) fantasy epic to Twilight Saga (2008) chick flicks, the genre has lost almost complete legitimacy and respect. But (and this is a really big “but”), Let the Right One In (2008) came to save the day, even when it is not quite as popular as the aforementioned films. This is a profound, somber, yet tender drama, which accurately pinpoints the despair of adolescence with a metaphor which transcends this period of youth and extends to human relationships of a toxic nature.
Both Oskar, the protagonist, and Eli, the supporting character that serves both as his sidekick and love interest, are twelve year olds going through a rough patch in their solitary lives. They manage to concern you and move you at the same time, because you question their decisions and yet you understand where they’re coming from. While you get to see Eli fiercely attacking and voraciously devouring her victims, you can’t help but feel sorry for that troubled, little beast. The performances are truly remarkable. Eli is able to drag you and bring you down with her as you unknowingly turn into her accomplice; this is what she has done before (with the old mate which she had to let go) and what she’s doing now with Oskar. This boy makes you empathize so much with his clueless, adolescent nature, that you end up rooting for any super-empowered partner who will watch his back. And that’s what’s sad about these stories: the victim is being saved at the cost of meeting their doom. This movie depicts this, the true core of the vampire myth, with the solemnity that it deserves. Isolation is the ultimate self-damnation.
I found a connection here with Interview with the Vampire (1994), which is the use of the child vampire to present this matter in the rawest of its forms. Kids don’t usually have a well-rounded moral frame and, upon being corrupted so earlier in their lives, they become the deadliest of vampires, because they barely got to be in touch with their human side. However, this story is not meant to make you afraid of vampires, but to warn you about fatal relationships (it’s drama, not horror). I was talking about this with my brother-in-law and he had some very valuable insight that I think is worth sharing. Ultimately, the child vampire is the most adequate way of illustrating the nature of these creatures, because these are beings who not only stay the same age, but they don’t ever mature, either, just as it happens with the self-centered, pathological people who know no other way of establishing a relationship than in a vertical manner. It can point upwards or downwards, but it is never horizontal; for instance, in this case, the vampire either victimizes herself or imposes authority. The addiction factor is key here, given that the same patterns can be observed in real life relationships between an addict and a non-addict. The latter is dragged and condemned, his life destroyed, on a foundation of guilt trips and coercion.
As this movie takes a deep look into the pathological aspect of the human-vampire relationship, it serves as an alert to those who are being sucked by an endless vicious circle of “I need you and you need me”, where the victim chooses to see only what they want to see. It is worth noting how the movie picks up even on this detail. When Eli first attacks someone in front of Oskar, he looks away and shuts the door. Then, in the next-to-last scene, when she saves his life, he is underwater with his eyes shut (he’s being bullied into drowning), and we, the spectators, are right there with him (remember that the screenplay is carefully designed to make us feel for them). A decapitated head falls into the water, along with a torn limb, and to us it is obvious that Eli just got there and she is doing some serious, horrific, shitting-your-pants-kinda-stuff out there, but we don’t actually get to see it, and neither does Oskar. Instead, what we see are her big, blue, caring, blood sprinkled eyes, when she pulls him out of the water. That’s what Oskar sees, too, and he just smiles in blissful ignorance.
In the last scene, when they’re running away together on the train and Oskar cutely raps in Morse Code on the “coffin” Eli’s in, you suddenly feel the bittersweet taste of the future that awaits him. His fate of perdition is the same as the old man’s who was just no longer of use to the ambitious little vampire. To her, getting rid of people is easy (she’s a murderer, after all). To the Oskars of the world, walking someone out can be way more harder than letting them in.