This Swedish movie takes the vampire genre and twists it on its head so that instead of fearing the blood-sucking scourge you end up feeling sorry for her. The vampire in this movie is Eli, a dark Balkan-looking child who says she is 12 years old and is living in a soulless apartment complex outside Stockholm. She befriends Oskar, a lonely and bullied schoolboy who is the same age and who day dreams about violently attacking his tormentors.
Låt den rätte komma, the film’s original Swedish title is starkly shot – the cinematography reminded me of Kieslowski’s Dekalog, possibly because of the functional apartment block and the snow – and the child actors who play Eli and Oskar are superb, particularly Eli who combines innocence with twitching animal instincts when she is about to strike.
The film is true to the vampire genre in a number of aspects – Eli must be invited into Oskar’s house before she enters and she can not come out in daylight. One of her victims who survives is infected with vampire virus and craves blood but rather than succumbing allows herself to be exposed to daylight and spontaneously combusts.
Other vampire traits are ignored – there is no aversion to garlic, crucifixes, or at least they aren’t mentioned.
Eli’s vulnerability is exploited by the director and wins our sympathy even when we realise that the older man she lives with is a servitor who strings up victims and cuts their throats to bring her back blood. His failure means that she has to kill for herself, starting with a drunk staggering home from a bar and killing several times after that in some truly horrific set-pieces.
However, a scene with Eli’s childlike and innocent face smeared with the blood of her latest victim is a superb juxtaposition that numbs the horror of what she has to do to stay alive. She is not evil and did not choose to be a vampire, that is what she is. She urges Oskar to imagine what it must be like to be her and to quell his urge to kill his tormentors.
“I kill because I have to,” she tells him.
Apparently a Hollywood remake is already on the card and it will be interesting to see if it can sustain the cinematic lyricism and understated horror of its carefully paced Scandinavian original.