Lina Leandersson, in 'Let the Right One In'

Dir. Tomas Alfredson
(R) ★ ★ ★ ½

“I’ve been twelve for a long time,” says Eli (Lina Leandersson). She has moved in next door to Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), an alienated boy who is the same age, except not. When he asks her if she’s a vampire, she answers, “I live off blood, yes” — if vampire is the word for it she can hardly say. I don’t think anyone bothered to explain it to her back when she really was twelve-years-old five, fifty, maybe five-hundred years ago — we’re never told for sure. I don’t think she understands it even now. She hungers, and she responds to that hunger. She copes as well as she can.

Let the Right One In, from Sweden, showcases terrific direction by Tomas Alfredson, who with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema creates images of eerie elegance. Their camera stalks, conceals, slowly pans across its mysteries, or hangs back like a silent witness. Two gruesome killings are shot from afar, to emphasize their darkness and isolation. And one bravura shot shows an event from an obscured point of view under the water of a swimming pool.

Others shots I can’t quite explain, but they cast a strange spell. One that is particularly effective shows a train in the distance, seen through the windows of a darkened room at night. You don’t need this shot to tell the story, but accompanied by Johan Söderqvist’s score it pulls us in and escalates our dread.

Adapting his novel, John Ajvide Lindqvist writes a screenplay that doesn’t require much exposition because it communicates to us more by showing than telling. Eli explains to Oskar some of the rules of vampirism, but they are evoked more vividly in a subplot involving one of Eli’s victims, who wakes up one morning and discovers that it’s painful to open the blinds and receive sunlight.

Another mystery is solved — in a way. The screenplay does not emphasize the question or indicate explicitly that it is providing an answer, but what Lindqvist implies, I think, points to profound tragedy. At the beginning of the film, Eli comes to town with a helper, Haken (Per Ragnar), who does horrible things in her service. Who is he? A brother? A friend? Does he worship vampires? Is he under her thrall? I believe the very last shot explains it all, and it suggests what the future holds.