The clamped-down residents of the frozen Swedish suburb in which "Let the Right One In" takes place carry their alienation so staunchly, even cheerfully, that it comes as a surprise when they actually bleed. But of course they do, and buckets, especially after an enigmatic girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) moves in next door to Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a lonely latchkey kid who is being victimized by bullies at school.
In this sinister but gorgeous and compelling film by director Tomas Alfredson, being human and acting human don't always go together. Oskar meets Eli one night in their building's courtyard, and he's naturally drawn to her. A dusky ice princess with black hair, fathomless eyes and the ability to maul a man four times her size, she is everything the fragile, translucent Oskar is not.
He's more intrigued by what they have in common than by what sets them apart. Eli seems to be as lonely as he is -- the only other person in her life is a devoted caretaker for whom she appears to care very little -- and to possess as old a soul. When Oskar asks her age, she tells him she's "more or less 12," though later she admits she's been 12 for a very long time. But Oskar has been 12 for a very long time, too, or so it feels to him.
If news of mysterious deaths weren't being reported in the papers -- Oskar carefully clips and saves the articles -- you might conclude Eli was nothing more than a figment of Oskar's imagination, a dark avenging fantasy. Instead, in what turns out to be one of the movie's central ironies, she reveals herself to be the only person who treats Oskar with anything resembling humanity.
It doesn't escape Oskar's notice that Eli is a bona fide, practicing vampire, but when it comes to companionship, beggars can't be choosers. "Let the Right One In" has been described as a beautiful love story, and it's true the movie is something to look at. Alfredson has an uncommon gift for composition that, rendered through Hoyte Van Hoytema's limpid cinematography, is reminiscent of Flemish painting. This is what it would look like if Vermeer had ever decided to make a bloody horror movie.
While the beauty is undeniable, the love part is dubious. Oskar and Eli might look like two innocent children in love, but one of them is neither innocent nor a child. The double-edged title -- which refers to a bloodsucking technicality that says vampires must be invited into a victim's home before they can attack -- raises the question of who we allow into our lives when our options are limited. Eli's and Oskar's story is literally one of a lonely boy saved by love, but the movie's title sounds an alarm.
'Let the Right One In'
MPAA rating: R for some bloody violence including disturbing images, brief nudity and language
unning time: 1 hour and 54 minutes
anguage: In Swedish with English subtitles
laying: At Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500; Laemmle's Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500; Edwards University Town Center, 4245 Campus Drive, Irvine, (949) 854-8818