- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

The most ignored character in the vampire world is the “familiar” of the bloodsucker: the human servant who protects his undead master during the daylight hours.

A consistent part of vampiric legends, the familiar is often forgotten altogether (“Interview With the Vampire”). When he isn’t, he’s often a one-note bad guy (“Fright Night”) or someone forced to do a vampire’s bidding by violence or the threat thereof (“30 Days of Night”).

“Let the Right One In” takes a different tack. What if a familiar is a lifelong companion, someone who protects his or her bloodsucking friend out of love?

Those interested in avoiding spoilers should leave off after this paragraph content in the knowledge that this is a moody, original take on the vampire film: Sweden’s vast white expanses of snow to visualize the lonely, harsh existence of his leads. Anyone interested in vampire films or relationship films will enjoy this fantastic picture.

Set in Sweden in the early 1980s, “Let the Right One In” is a boy-meets-girl story; it just so happens that the girl is a centuries-old vampire. Oskar (Lina Leandersson) standing in the snow, barefoot and jacketless.

Eli has just moved into Oskar’s building, along with an older male companion - her familiar, Hakan (Per Ragnar). A series of brutal murders follows Eli’s arrival. They are inexplicable to the police; the audience knows they are botched attempts by Eli’s protector to extract blood for her consumption.

The interactions between Hakan and Eli give a clue as to how they met: Hakan seems legitimately jealous that Eli spends her waking hours with the neighbor boy she just met. His feelings obviously are hurt, to the point where he asks her to stay home one evening as he performs his shameful murderous duty. Caught in the act, Hakan doesn’t return.

Who is Hakan? There’s an obvious tenderness there - one more suited to lovers than friends or parents. Because Hakan is middle-aged and Eli looks 12, this might seem kind of creepy; remember, though, that Hakan grows older, while Eli never will. She is 12 eternally. Who’s to say Hakan didn’t meet Eli when he also was 12?

Which just so happens to be the same age Oskar is now.

As the movie progresses and Oskar’s relationship with Eli blossoms, it is clear that there is little tying Oskar to his home; he doesn’t care for his mother, his father’s a drunk, and he has no friends. What would stop him from leaving with Eli and taking Hakan’s place? Is this how a familiar is born?

The closing scene of “Let the Right One In” answers that question in a cute, funny way, but darker questions linger under the surface: Is this a cycle, one doomed to repeat itself every 30 or 40 years? What will become of Oskar as he ages and Eli doesn’t? How short-lived will their happiness be?

★★★

TITLE: “Let the Right One In”

RATING: R (Some bloody violence, including disturbing images, brief nudity and language)

CREDITS: Directed by Tomas Alfredson

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