Vampire stories tend to come in two flavours -- either they're creepy horor stories, or celebrations of goth hotties tortured by their immortality.
But John Ajvide Lindqvist's "Let The Right One In" is neither kind or story. Instead this haunting, atmospheric Swedish movie is a poignant look at a very unique friendship between a young boy and a vampire child. His spare prose has a haunting poetic edge even in the violent scenes, and is littered with moments of pure creepiness and beauty.
A man and a young girl have moved into the apartment next to Oskar's. But he's more concerned with the savage bullies that attack him every single day.
But as he vents his frustrations by stabbing a tree, he sees a ghostly young girl named Eli, who informs him that she can't be his friend. She turns out to be as much of an oddball as Oskar -- especially since she only ventures out at night, smells like death, and is unaffected by the winter cold. But despite her odd greeting, the two strike up an innocent friendship.
At the same time, her servant Hakan is going around town killing young boys for Eli's sake, and trying to blackmail her into sleeping with him in exchange for blood. Oskar realizes that Eli is a bona fide vampire -- and not really a girl -- but doesn't intend to let that get in the way of their puppy love. Yet when Hakan's errands go horribly awry, Oskar finds himself to be the only person Eli can rely on.
Trust me, "Let the Right One In" has no sentimental ideas about children (even vampiric ones) -- they can be more violent than anyone, because they are more vulnerable. The adults are all distant and/or alcoholic, leaving the children to fend for themselves -- which makes the tender, clumsy connection between Eli and Oskar all the more striking.
The plot starts out slow, with Oskar expressing his anger and loneliness in violent fantasies, and Hakan being all creepy and pedophiley as he harvests blood for Eli. The story gradually grows tenser and more murky as the tensions grow more overpowering, leading to a gruesome clash in a cold swimming pool (with shattered glass "over the water like myriad white stars").
While Lindqvist's prose also starts out stark and spare, it becomes more dreamlike and haunting once Eli and Oskar start meeting at night. The words become more poetic ("Her fingers were long and slender as twigs), and even the brutality of Eli feeding off a teenage boy is written beautifully. Simultaneously, Lindqvist pares down the conversations between Hakan and Eli to mere brief exchanges, and thus keeping Eli's true nature a mystery.
And Lindqvist does a brilliant job with the vampiric angle. It's eerie rather than bloody or scary, and he manages to come up with some new twists (Eli's "dead" smell and matted hair). But this book's heart is the bittersweet, strangely innocent romance between Eli and Oskar -- they play with puzzles, laugh on the swings, and listen to each other through the walls.
And their moments of violence -- Oskar's rage and Eli's bloodthirsty feedings -- are only reflections that these children aren't meant to be out in the grimy daylit world. Oskar grows in courage and confidence thanks to Eli, and the lonely otherworldly Eli finds the one person in the world who really cares. Oh yeah, and there's the creepy Hakan, Eli's grotesque "guardian" who tries to starve the young vampire into having sex with him.
"Let the Right One In" is the sort of vampire novel that comes along only rarely, full of violence, darkness, beauty and a haunting wintry world of loneliness. Definitely a must-read.