"Let the Right One In," a luminous, transfixing new vampire movie from Sweden, does a rare thing: It creates a completely new sensibility for a time-worn genre. Here all the old darkness has been banished, and in its place all is light: shining snowscapes, clean, bright interiors. Daubs of red and flashes of artful violence are very carefully placed. The tone is muted, and beautiful.
Twelve-year-old Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), with his mop of blond hair and his sad pale eyes, is an emotional invert, bullied at school, falling through the cracks of his parents' divorce at home in a Stockholm suburb. One day — well, one night — a strange girl (Lina Leandersson) moves into the apartment next door, accompanied by a tormented-looking man who could be her father. The girl is a disheveled madonna, peering out from under a curtain of dark hair through eyes with huge irises. In a yard the following night, she appears out of nowhere. "I can't be your friend," she tells Oskar. "I want to be left alone." Says Oskar: "So do I."
Of course neither of them really does. They're two melancholy loners who've finally found a friend. The girl, Eli, is 12 years old, too, "more or less." She's a little scruffy, and she smells weird, and she goes coatless and sometimes shoeless in the bitter cold. But Oskar is awkwardly drawn to her, and she — suppressing a powerful urge for the first time — to him. One day he wanders through the open door of her apartment; no one is there, only a note. "I'm in the bathroom," it says. "Please don't go in. Want to hang out tonight?"
The picture is built on a procession of extreme, radiant close-ups, and it has scenes of startling originality: a character suddenly bursting into flames, an attack of terrified house cats, a very long shot (so long you might miss her in the distance) of Eli scrambling up the side of a building. There's blood seeping into the snow, too, of course, and one hideous mutilation; but there are no shock cuts, no cheap thrills, and there's very little sucker-punch music, either — only an occasional wash of somber strings or a lone piano.
Everything is background to Oskar and Eli's strange story. He falls more and more in love with her even as it dawns on him what she really is; and she toughens him against his classmate antagonists, and teaches him how to grow up — something she can never do. At the quiet, glorious conclusion, the movie's cryptic title finally settles onto it like a cool breath of poetry.
Check out everything we've got on "Let the Right One In."
For breaking news, celebrity columns, humor and more — updated around the clock — visit MTVMoviesBlog.com.