There vs Here: Let The Right One In / Let Me In

Låt den rätte komma in is a Swedish novel from 2004. The author also penned the screenplay for the Swedish film of the same name in 2008. And in 2010 Hollywood made their own version, but once again something got lost in translation. It’s the story of a bullied twelve year old boy and a vampire child who moves into the next apartment over. The two develop a close friendship but when the body count begins to rise and people start growing suspicious, Eli/Abby needs to leave in order to survive. There truly is a fundamental difference between these two movies which the UK’s leading film critic Mark Kermode summed up beautifully: “Let The Right One In is a film about kids that happens to feature vampires. Let Me In is a film about vampires that just happens to feature kids.”

Let Me In
Released 10/01/2010                              Rated: R

I’m going to start with the American remake as it was by rewatching this one that I realized what the original does right. I saw Let Me In in the theater super late at night by myself because I had to make sure the 35mm was constructed properly. (I used to work at a movie theater and had to put the films together on Thursday nights.) I remember driving home with the windows cracked and nearly jumping out of my skin when I ran over a stick. Now, I realize that sounds silly, but I was apparently wound so tight that it took me way too long to calm down. I swear it sounded right next to my ear, and if you’ve seen this movie, you know that there’s a guy killing young people from the back seat of their cars late at night…

The American version definitely sold this as a horror movie. And in that vein the one thing this film does right, quite possibly the only thing, is the music. There’s this ominous theme that plays throughout the movie, unsettling you from the first shot. Unfortunately I can’t broaden my praise any further than that as I spent the majority of my time rewatching this film constantly adjusting the sound. Soft dialogue, ominous music, silence, loud noise! Loud music! Silence again. If you have to rely on sudden sounds to convey your scares, you’re not doing it correctly.

They made Abby more of a demonic creature in this version by CGI-ing her movements to make her seem unnatural when she goes into predatory mode. (It wasn’t that great then, and it’s even worse now.) She loses all control when feeding, needing to dominate her prey and even throw it around a little. She savagely tears into the person so much that I’m not sure she actually gets much out of it as evidenced by her wearing the majority of their blood, and then just leaves shortly thereafter. It’s not a bad choice given what the filmmakers were going for; however, this loses the depth of the character completely. Eli didn’t like having to kill which is why Håkan did it for her. She didn’t like it but she was good at it, and always felt remorse afterward.

However, if I had to pick a singular flaw that ranks highest on my list of what’s wrong with this movie, it’d be the pacing. The story felt so disjointed. The film opens on a rush to the hospital before going back two weeks to show us why we should care. Except I didn’t care. I understand the tactic, but it really doesn’t work for a horror movie that still has to get through half of its run time. Not only that, but there are subplots that are forgotten about until they’re convenient: the neighbors, the bullies, the detective, the murders, etc. Every time they go back to one of them I’m like “Oh yeah. This is a thing.”

Let The Right One In
Released 12/12/2008                              Rated: R

If I had to put what makes this movie work over its successor in a nutshell, it’d be: detail. That one word truly marks the difference between the two films. Visual, contextual, character, camera work, story, etc. All these different details create a complete, well-rounded, good film. And it’s because of the lack of these details that the American version is inferior.

Our introduction to Håkan, Eli’s caretaker, is him cleaning and packing up equipment. The audience has no context concerning what these things are, why he needs them, or where Håkan is going. He’s happy, content, even smiling. He takes great care and pride in his role as Eli’s caretaker and provider because they have an obvious bond/relationship. In the American version there’s an indifference between him and Abby. He’s seemingly resentful of her and his duties. And they don’t explain it. When Håkan gets caught he knows what he has to do and does it in silent acceptance because it’s for Eli’s protection. In the American version (his character honestly doesn’t have a name) it isn’t so much a self-sacrifice as it is more akin to a get-out-of-jail-free card he resigns to using.

Oskar keeps a secret book full of newspaper articles of death and murder and weapon advertisements. (The headlines were not transcribed in English, but we can infer based on the article we see him take when the first body was found in the Owen doesn’t have this book because he doesn’t have a harmful bone in his body. Sure, he wants to turn the tide on his bullies, but he isn’t fascinated by or crave violence. It’s not in his nature the way it’s hidden within Oskar.

Case in point: Oskar isn’t afraid of his bullies, he seems to just accept the abuse. But he revels in finally acting against them ten times over what’s been done to him. And after that, he’s even a jerk to Eli because he feels powerful. It’s only once he sees Eli’s suffering when she starts bleeding profusely that he gets scared and finally invites her in and stops being an ass. Owen lives in fear of his bullies and receives far worse treatment than Oskar does. He’s happy that he was able to stand up for himself, but that doesn’t make him feel superior to them or Abby. So the scene of not inviting Abby inside is one of curiosity, not malice. My only real criticism of Oskar in the Swedish version was that I desperately wanted someone to get the kid a tissue. In every exterior scene his nose was running!

The horror of this film is taking something innocent and making it unnatural and deadly, and that is Eli. She looks like a twelve year old girl but she’s actually an old preternatural being that kills to survive. For instance, the first time Oskar meets Eli they are outside at night in feet of fallen snow; he’s bundled up in a thick coat and she’s in thin clothes, short sleeves even. It’s a subtle detail, one you may not even notice it at all as opposed to the American version where they focus on Abby’s bare feet so much the film won’t allow you forget. The only time we even see Eli barefoot is during the hospital scene when she goes in to inquire about her “father.” And the only reason we focus on that is because the nurse focuses on it.

The original knew the story it wanted to tell. Hollywood lost the meaning behind it trying to steep it in scares and gore. Even the posters reflect the difference between the two. Honestly, which one looks more interesting/creepy?

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