Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!

Let Me In Vs Let The Right One In

A few years ago, when the Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In was finally released in Australian cinemas, I skipped a party I was meant to attend that night to go and see the film by myself. Tonight, I did the same thing for the American remake of the same film, retitled Let Me In.

Let The Right One In was based on a superb novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. (If you’ve missed the press around it, long story short: 12-year-old bullied boy befriends vampire neighbour who lives with a man who kills for her to survive.) The director of the American remake, Matt Reeves (of Cloverfield fame), had said that his film would be a new adaptation of the book, and not a remake of the film. This is a lie. The original film skipped large chunks of the book (as film adaptations usually need to, except for books by Cormac McCarthy, whose prose is so sparse that it has just the right amount of meat for a film), and the remake skips large chunks of the original film, while excising further material.

Let me say this: Let Me In is a good film. It is not better than Let The Right One In (as some critics have suggested), but it does justice to its source material.

Of course, when I first heard of the remake, I groaned. They were going to dumb it down for American audiences, I was sure of it. I felt more hopeful when I heard Kodi Smit-McPhee, a young Australian actor who was excellent in The Road, had been cast as the bullied Oskar (here retitled Owen). Well, they did dumb it down a little. They added dialogue which spelled everything out in big, neon letters for the audience. They used the most hyperactive and intrusive score I’ve heard in a long time, with rumbles of bass telling us when to be scared, layers of strings telling us when to be sad.

Smit-McPhee and his co-star, Chloë Grace Moretz, did a very good job. Moretz, as Abby (formerly Eli) did a good job, although she was given the majority of the unnecessarily expository dialogue I mentioned before, and at times seemed to be impersonating Lina Leandersson, who played Eli, instead of making the role her own. Smit McPhee was an excellent choice – the best the filmmakers could have made – but he was still no Kåre Hedebrant. Both boys have a quiet intensity, but Smit-McPhee is usually just sad, sometimes scared. Hedebrant is trusting, confused and angry: there is more power in Oskar than in Owen. Owen seems to be swept along by a series of events he can’t control, whereas Oskar made a choice. “Yes,” he said. “This is what I want.” Owen doesn’t seem to grow through the film: he hums the same tune (the advertising jingle of his favourite candy) at the beginning as he does at the end. It seems his journey has taken him nowhere.

The script also sexualised their relationship, which was unexpected and inappropriate. Owen spent time watching his neighbours fool around, a couple in the video arcade make out. At times, he seems like a creepy little perv. Of course, he is just a boy discovering girls, but Oskar was a child: all he really wanted in Eli was a friend.

Anyway, enough of the characters, let’s talk setting. The original was set in Blackeberg, a Swedish suburb, in 1983, and with good reason: it had a lot to say about Sweden at that point in its history, at a time when it was hiding its problems in plain sight, as Eli does by trying to appear human. Let Me In moves the action to New Mexico, and keeps the year, for no good reason. There are a few televised speeches from Ronald Reagan and, coupled with some dialogues about evil that were shoehorned in, perhaps it was a commentary on the Cold War. I doubt it. It seems the only reason they kept the film in the 1980s was so that Håkan’s character could listen to David Bowie’s Let’s Dance on his Walkman.

(Speaking of Håkan’s character, he was credited only as The Father, while Staffan’s character was renamed The Policeman. They weren’t real characters, just Hollywood ciphers for plot development. Håkan didn’t stay with Abby because he loved her – he stayed with her because he was too afraid to leave. I thought that was a sad simplification of Eli and Håkan’s unsettling relationship. Similarly, Virginia’s role was reduced, her age was halved, and she seemed like an idiot. We really didn’t care when she *spoiler alert* went up in flames.)

The film kept the mood of the original, which is weird: it doesn’t look like any America I’ve seen in films. (And, my experience in travelling through America taught me that it looks just like the films. I couldn’t believe it, driving through the suburbs of Philadelphia – I was pressed up against the glass exclaiming, “It really is that green! It really is that wholesome!” Unsettling.) It has co-opted the film’s unique Scandinavian look, which makes me…sad. And they basically rewrote the laws of…I don’t know, astronomy. The original recreated the Scandinavian light of an pitch-dark mid-winter afternoon. When Owen goes to training at 4pm, it appears to be night-time, although the sun doesn’t set in New Mexico until 5pm in winter. (Thanks, Google!)

It’s a bloodier film than the original, but not scarier. It uses a lot of jump scares, and turns Abby into a CGI monster, but the horror of the original was in its everyday appearance: Eli was all the more frightening because she was so human. It was a story about the dark side of suburbia, and the things that hide just outside our range of vision. The penultimate swimming pool scene (y’all know what I’m talking about) was terrifying because we saw so little. In Let Me In, we see (and hear) it all. It’s not bad, but it’s indicative of the Hollywood attitude of the filmmakers: more is more, or maybe not quite enough.

A lot of these are quibbles that don’t really distract from the narrative, but I couldn’t keep them out of my head. Reeves essentially took these two works of art – the book and the original film are, in my opinion, masterpieces, at least in their English translations – and gave them a coat of red, white and blue paint. He did nothing to make it is own, and nothing to justify his remake of it (oh, except for saving audience members the Herculean effort of reading subtitles).

Edit: One thing I did like about the remake was a moment in which *spoiler alert* Owen finds a picture of Abby with a boy about his own age. It’s an old photo, so it’s presumably Håkan (or The Father). It addressed what the book and the original film only hinted at: that his fate is to end up like that, bound to an ageless being, committed to killing so it can survive. It’s not a happy future.

For the most part, Let Me In belongs to the American/Australian/Swedish Idol school of remakes: it’s a technically proficient, almost note-for-note reconstruction of the original. It’s inoffensive enough, but it adds nothing to our understanding of the film.

As a small aside, I’ll give you an example of what I mean. In 1970, Black Sabbath released Iron Man. It’s an iconic heavy metal song filled with futuristic dread. A man travels to the future, witnesses the apocalypse, and returns to the present day (well, 1970). In the process, he becomes metallic in some way (the lyrics claim he was “turned to steel”, even though the title clearly posits him as a man made of iron), and mute. He tries to warn people, but they are terrified of his appearance, and run away in fear. This angers Iron Man, and in his fury, he wreaks havoc and causes the very apocalypse he witnessed. Ooh. Paradoxical.

Anyway, in the mid-90s, Swedish indie-pop outfit the Cardigans (incidentally, one of my favourite bands) covered the song. I’ve included it below. Its folky-pop feel and breathy vocals (check out the boop-boo-boo-boop action towards the end) make us feel sorry for Iron Man, even as he destroys all around him. It casts him in the light of a tragic victim instead of a violent villain.

That was a long way to make a point. If you enjoyed the original as much as I did, it wouldn’t hurt to see Let Me In. It’s a good film and, if you haven’t seen the original, you’ll enjoy it even more. But I highly recommend the story’s original forms: they left me devastated and awed, and I find wonder in them each time I rewatch and reread.

Below the jump, I’ll post the trailer for Let Me In and Let The Right One In. Comparing the two gives a fairly accurate idea of the differences between them.


Filed under: Uncategorized,

5 Responses

  1. Frances says:

    I am revealing my ignorance here, but what was going on in Sweden in the early 80s?

    • liamliamliam says:

      Not too much of interest. It was a time of social change and rapid modernisation: it’s all made clear in the book. So there was a good reason for the book to address the 1980s, but…the movie seems to stick with it for the kitsch factor.

  2. Rachel says:

    Great review! I having been trying to decide if I want to see this or not. I think I will now I have read your review.

    It bothers me how Americans need to remake every damn movie… Even their own! Within years of the first one. It also bothers me how they have to sexualize everything (even children) and make scary movies super gory. Personally I find Japanese horror which relies more on suspense and the unknown to create fear, a lot scarier. But each to their own! :)

    But yes, I will see this now. Thanks Liam!

  3. Really good review Liam. Now I really feel like re-watching the Swedish original. And I need to get my hands on the book! xx

  4. […] though I use it when writing scripts at work) at their remake of the awesome British show Skins. In the recent case of the American remake of the Swedish film Let The Right One In, I decided to wait until I saw the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: