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I recently saw both the Swedish and English language adaptations of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel Let the Right One In, which I’ll admit that haven’t actually read–yet.

I’ll focus primarily on the English language version, which I saw first, but many of my comments apply to both films. Also: be warned, while I don’t give away any specific plot twists or revelations, some of my comments may provide hints that make it easier to guess at those twists–not exactly a spoiler warning, but just a heads up. This isn’t so much a review of the film, as a commentary on the construct of the vampire and the haunting, poignant, and somehow resonant way in which that concept is treated.

This is the first movie I’ve seen, since Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, that has sought to evoke the idea that the blood-drinking yearnings of the vampire is just a corollary to the true, profoundly existential horror of such a creature, and the isolation that arises out of its fundamental nature. These aren’t hip, sparkle-in-the-sunlight, hang out with their ersatz vampire family type creatures.

The vampire of Let Me In blends a residual humanity with a predatory nature. The perpetual conflict that arises between that need to reach out, connect and create friendships and bonds, and the desire to feed on the very creatures with whom she seeks to connect emotionally is treated as one of the fundamental tragedies of the vampire’s nature. It’s made all the poignant, here, because the vampire in question is a twelve-year-old girl, Abby. She evokes the tragedy of the vampire child Claudia, from Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, but here the girl who will never grow up is the focus. She has similar challenges–the age at which she was turned means that she’s not regarded as an autonomous actor, who is able to move through the world in isolation and blend in, fending for herself. She requires someone, a Rennfield-like Familiar, to help her navigate the adult world.

And yet, unlike Claudia, who became an adult, and then a jaded old woman, trapped in the body of a child, Abby retains a child-like quality that sees her wanting to connect with others her age, to form friendships that are doomed, not just because she’s a predator who hunts the same creatures she wants to befriend, but because such creatures–normal humans–will grow up, and no longer be like her. As a result, she carries with her a weighted sadness that exists alongside her unaffected enjoyment of things like puzzles and games, and that believably makes her seem simultaneously ancient and young.

Her Familiar, meanwhile, who is her adult chaperone in the world, cuts a peculiar, obsequious and disturbing figure. He too, is marginalized from humanity–he hunts for her and thus distances himself from his own humanity. It’s clear that to him, the people he kills and bleeds in order to provide her with sustenance are not individuals but livestock. And yet, he does not seem sadistic–there’s no sense that he derives pleasure from the kills. Instead, they appear to be an unpleasant chore.

What we are left to infer, with a certain sinister–and sordid–sense of dawning horror, is what keeps him in that relationship. What prompts him to exile himself from humanity–from any possibility of normal relationships and community–and commit murder after murder in order to feed appetites that are not even his own? The film doesn’t spell things out specifically–instead it provides us with a few visual cues and bits of dialogue, before leaving us to come to our own understanding of what keeps them together. This elipsis may actually be more horrific, particularly given that it is followed by a final, fleeting confirmation of a piece of the puzzle that we’ve already come to know, at some level.

We also see their grim, bare apartment, her grimy clothes, and their threadbare possessions–there’s little furniture, because they presumably must leave places in a hurry, and dare not stay in any one location for a long period of time. Ultimately, we have the sense that furniture is irrelevant to the marginal, furtive existence they must pursue.

The final piece in this vampire’s isolation arises out of the fact that her predatory appetites are such that only one of her kind can be sustained in any given region–and even then, she must keep moving to remain safe. In a world of humans, as a creature who dies when exposed to sunlight, Abby is uniquely poised as a deadly enemy, who is both implacably lethal, and simultaneously vulnerable, if ever the hunters should learn of her Achilles heel.

And so, she cannot even enjoy the company of another of her kind–it would be too dangerous for both of them to have the same vulnerabilities during the daylight hours, and too difficult to keep them both fed without requiring too many victims.

“Let Me In”‘s vampirism isn’t sexy. It is hauntingly, darkly horrific–but the horror of it derives not from our perspective, as humans who are hunted. It comes from our glimpses of the experience of this child vampire, living out the endless years of her life, enjoying brief moments of happiness and pleasure–not from drinking blood, which seems as much an unpleasant chore and need for her as the murders are for her Familiar–but in forging brief connections that are doomed to be short-lived. Ultimately, we know these moments are like brief and superficial disturbances in the surface of an isolation that is so profound because it arises out of her fundamental nature as a creature who is like us, and yet implacably and completely other.

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