Why Let The Right One In is the Best Vampire Story of All Time
With the influx of glitzy overly-romanticized vampire books, movies and television shows—True Blood, Vampire Diaries, and everyone’s favorite sparkling diamond-esque vampire flick Twilight to name a few—I think we’ve lost sight of the disgusting horror that is vampirism. Drinking blood is, well . . . repulsive and shouldn’t be deemed an admirable or attractive trait. With all the making out in the above referenced, you’d think there would be some mention of the blood-sucker’s foul, rotten breath, but no. Let The Right One In is different, however.
Let The Right One In—be it the original Swedish 2004 novel or subsequent 2008 movie adaptation, the 2010 English language remake titled Let Me In, or indeed the its stage productions—is a refreshing and honestly grotesque look at what vampirism would be if it were a real disease. Twelve-year old vampire Eli (or Abby depending on which version you are referring to), without a steady stream of blood is a dying body—a bag of decomposing cells and severe nausea, releasing a foul odor that only grows with every malnourished moment that passes. She (as the novel points out, originally born a boy) doesn’t amorously seduce her prey but has an older man as a guardian that poses as her father and brutally kidnaps and drains her victims, hanging them upside down from trees and slitting their throats much like a deer carcass, their warm life-giving blood collected in a five-gallon jug. If her keeper is for whatever reason unable to provide, then the young vampire femme fatal attacks her prey like a fierce and rabid animal. There is no sexy seduction. There is no soft neck biting. Only brutal and animalistic feeding, the helpless victim’s eyes wide and bouncing around as they choke on their own blood, their flesh torn in agonizing fashion, their knowing that this is the end.
But Let The Right One In is much more than a simple vampire story, much much more, and there are some beautiful and disturbing layers that create such depth, such character development, that this story rests on a level high above any vampire tale before or since.
The story faces our current growing epidemic of teenage bullying head on and asks the question: what and/or who is evil? The young bullies are far more scary than the little vampire girl and far more evil, tormenting the awkward and weak protagonist in the shower stalls, the bathrooms, and after school. They come off as almost sociopathic with no concern or empathy for the picked-on Owen. There is a real tension that builds in each bullying episode and a level of frustration that follows due to the lack of concern from the school and his recently divorced parents who seem to be consumed by their hatred for each other, neglecting Owen’s emotions and leaving him to helplessly fend for himself. Just as he is rendered helpless, so is the reader/viewer, the writing from Let The Right One In creator John Ajvide Lindqvist doing a great job of placing you in the story. Not only was Owen emotionally abused and emasculated, being referred to as a “fucking little girl,” embarrassingly pissing himself, he was also physically assaulted, each threat of attack posing more and more danger. As his friendship/courtship grows with Eli—the weird, smelly, barefoot-in-the-snow girl next door—you begin to sense his confidence growing, as Eli encourages him time and time again to stand up for himself. Eli’s sincerity and compassion for Owen bleed through, and the love between the two children was sweet and new—at least for Owen. This element has to be one of the best parts to the story and provides for the dramatic closing resolve.
Besides the bullying and Eli-Owen dynamic, there is the relationship between Eli and her keeper too. You can tell they truly care for each other and his jealousy unmasks itself as the little vampire becomes closer to the boy next door. At times, their relationship appears to be of a father and daughter. Other times it appears to be of a slave and his master. You can’t help but to root for this guy as he clumsily botched his murder attempts, almost getting caught, getting scolded by Eli using a demonic voice, and ultimately dying in excruciating pain to protect the young girl, a life of total servitude and selflessness. There are also some hints of pedophilia thrown in, an interestingly creepy and realistic part to the story and something not really seen in other vampire stories, even the ones pertaining to youths.
In the closing moments of the story, Owen is forced to stay under the local swimming pool’s surface for three minutes, or risk having his eye cut out as revenge for Owen having hit the shithead bully with a stick in the days prior. As each second passes, the tension builds and builds—Owen being drowned, encompassed by the chlorine walls. Next you hear the muffled screams from above and see the arm and hand, that was only moments prior holding Owen under the water, severed and sinking along with the bully’s head as the water goes pink. With the bullies’ bodies dismembered and splayed out across the enclosed pool area, a must-see for all you gore-lovers, looking into the seemingly fragile-yet-bloody monster that is Eli, Owen realizes his fate. He let her in and there is no going back.
Let The Right One In brings you face to face with divorce and the tribulations that children go through during, it examines terrifying bullying, pedophilia, the battle between good and evil—both internal and external—and a love between a young boy and girl that offers a chance for redemption. There’s a reason why this is the best vampire story of all time and the best book overall of any genre. This story has such depth, and so many layers, that it would be great even without the vampire element. You can’t say that about any other vampire story because that’s all they have—vampires. Remove bloodsuckers from True Blood, there’s nothing but European actors taking a half-assed stab at country accents. Do the same with Vampire Diaries, and all you have are some teenage kids with not nearly enough drama or romance to keep a story going. Twilight… well, you get the idea.
Do yourself a favor and read the book and watch both versions of the movie, both offer a little something to the pot, neither of which involves sassy vampires that glimmer in the sun and drive bad ass sports cars, which is a damned good thing. We’ve had enough of that.
If there’s a moral to this story, it is this: be careful of who you invite into your lives and only let the right ones in.