Let the Right One In

This is something of a special review, because I am not simply reviewing one film, but two. The two films are, of course, related to each other. The first is the Swedish hit vampire film “Let the Right One In” (Lad den rette komme ind) and the second is the American remake of it “Let me in” (I feel like something has been lost in translation into English from… English). Both these films are based on a book of the same name (the long, Swedish name) and the Swedish film, being the older of the two, is simply based on the book, while its American counterpart is really based on the earlier film.

The Original

The film is a refreshingly original take on the vampire genre. Oskar is a 12-year-old boy who is a “difficult” child. He’s a little anti-social, and is the preferred punching bag for a group of local bullies. He lives with his mother in a small apartment block when an old man and a young girl (presumably his daughter) move in next door. The plot revolves around the experiences of the boy over the course of a few weeks during which he becomes friends with Eli, the girl who is also 12, more or less. He gets bullied, Eli solves a Rubik’s cube, he stands up to the bullies, and a few of the town’s residents die under mysterious circumstances along the way. At some point, Oskar falls in love with Eli and then discovers that she is a vampire, and that she has been 12 for quite some time. The bullying escalates, the killing escalates, and the love escalates, all coming to a crunch at the end. Formulaic, yet magnificently executed.

A thriller, and a horror story this may be, but it is mostly a love story and a very good one at that. A very pure, slightly awkward, and innocent love between two children is very well portrayed by the two leads. Lina Leandersson deserves especially high praise for her role as Eli, an extremely complex character. The production of the film itself is sound, with snappy dialogue and that slightly creepy ambiance, essential to all good films of the vampire genre. The screenplay was, in fact, written by the author of the original book and from what I’ve heard (I have yet to read the book, but it’s on my to-do list, right after “learning Swedish”) much has been cut out, but it preserves the essential essence of what the story is about.

The film is rated R is most countries, but that’s because it’s so raw. It doesn’t shy away from being slightly uncomfortable at times, and it certainly doesn’t shy away from being creepy (c’mon, it’s a film about a 12-year-old vampire). It is gory in sections, but not overly so. In fact, the “gore” factor is used very sparingly, and to good effect. The pace is good, and what little action there is, is very believable. I was never really aware of the Swedish film industry prior to this, but everything in this movie “clicks”. I would recommend it to anyone, and was surprised to learn that it wasn’t Sweden’s entry for the best foreign language film in the Academy awards of 2009. I would recommend this film to anyone.

The female leads in the original (left) and remake (right)

The Remake

You’re in for a surprise, because this is actually really good. Fans of the original film, myself included, cringed when we heard that there was going to be a Hollywood remake. Hollywood remakes of good foreign language films are rarely any good, and most are unwatchable. This one is different. Matt Reeves deserves many hugs from everybody for his exceptional treatment of the remake. He pretty much stuck to the old saying of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

The remake is almost exactly the same as the original. It is spooky how similar they made the two films. The story is (almost) exactly the same, most of the scenes are exactly the same, right down to the pacing of the line delivery. Some of the scenes even followed the shot sequences from the original (yes, I’m a movie nerd and I remember these things). There were very few changes, and as a result, the essence of the original film was largely preserved.

A few complaints: In parts where the dialogue was modified, it was amended. Amended to explain things more. You know how a joke isn’t funny if you have to explain it? Well, horror films that are supposed to be shrouded in an air of mystery begin to lose that air if you just keep explaining things away. Similarly with some of the visuals. The filmmakers did well to mimic many of the shots from the original, but in the instances where they didn’t, they showed more, again diminishing the creepy, mysterious ambiance somewhat (this is especially true for the final “showdown” scene, which was MUCH better in the original). I am just nitpicking a little bit here, if you hadn’t seen the original film, you probably wouldn’t notice these little missteps. There is also a small amount of CGI in some of the “attack” scenes, which I thought was not only unnecessary, but poorly executed.

Certain things were added to modify the story which initially annoyed me. I won’t write what they are, because many of them will spoil key parts of the film, but upon reflection these modifications really weren’t so bad. One of them even causes the overall story of the film’s universe (i.e. stuff that happened before and after the events of the film) to change significantly, but really… it doesn’t take away from the overall experience of the movie. For those who haven’t read the book or seen the original, these modifications wouldn’t even register.

The actors who play the leads were fantastic. They needed to be, to be able to fill the shoes of those who played in the original version. My only real complaint is that they both look a little too healthy and wholesome. Chloe Morentz you will recognize from Kick Ass, and 500 Days of Summer, and she really is an exceptional talent, but she’s also just a little bit too good-looking to give off that creepy, awkward vibe that instills a slight level of discomfort in the viewer. Still, she deserves an award for this role, and if there was a category for “Best Hollywood remake for a foreign language film” then Let Me In would have it in the bag.

Shot for shot, the remake mimics the original very well

So there, I begrudgingly admit that this is not just a good remake, but a very good one, and certainly a very watchable film in its own right. I do prefer the original, even though I have to read subtitles for the whole thing. Sometimes I feel that they should have just dubbed the original and re-released it in the US. The slight modifications that were made take some of the edge off the film, which is a pity because it really had a chance to be truly great as there is something to be said for Hollywood production values. It did however serve the purpose of bringing this wonderful story to a wider audience while also showcasing the talents of two very good child actors.

Both films are definitely worth seeing. Watch Let Me In first, then Let The Right One In (why did they change the name, SERIOUSLY!?). If you only watch one, make it the Swedish one. This is not a horror film, but a love story disguised as one, and a very good one at that. I wish more people made films like this.

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