Director Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John Ajvide Lingvist’s novel of the same name is hypnotic and subdued in the manner that many Swedish productions are. Oskar and Eli (pronounced eely), two young people on the verge of adolescence, meet in the frozen playground of a small apartment complex in Blackeberg, a small city near Stockholm. Oskar divides his time between his harping mother Yvonne in the city and his fun-loving father Erik in the snowy countryside. Outside of school, he collects newspaper clippings of the gruesome murders that are taking place in town. His classmate Conny regularly bullies him; Eli’s antidote is deliciously simple, flying in the face of modern anti-bullying campaigns. “Hit back harder,” she recommends. If that doesn’t work, she says, she’ll help him. What makes this romance different is that Eli is a vampire.
Eli has a helper, an older man who obtains fresh blood for her that he drains from young victims. Without this sustenance, she grows wan, moping about with raccoon eyes and smelling of decay. After his arrest, Eli is alone, and Oskar becomes her sole confidant. After she empowers him to strike back, Oskar takes revenge on Conny, hitting him across the ear with a rod. He takes her vampirism in stride; they share a first kiss after he warns her of an intruder. She is covered in the man’s blood. When Oskar’s tormentors seek revenge upon him, Eli comes to his rescue, as promised. The one person that Oskar can be intimate with in his life—his relationship with his mother is characterized by harried yelling, and his father, though affectionate, is easily distracted by drink and friends—is not a person at all. Not flesh and blood, anyway. The movie takes its time to unfold, refusing to rush. It moves as slowly as the love between Eli and Oskar grows and as slowly as the self-discovery that Oskar experiences.