Let Me In

Let Me In is a 2010 remake of the 2008 Swedish cult classic, Let The Right One In. The film revolves around Abby and Owen, two twelve year olds, living in Los Alamos, New Mexico. As you might have guessed from the title, this is a vampire flick – but it's definitely not your standard vampire fare. Whereas a traditional vampire movie typically has its vampire protagonist fighting against its own murderous nature to win the heart of its human companion, Let Me In contains no such clich├ęs. Rather than being the story of good triumphing over evil through the rediscovery of what it is to be human, this is a story of survival, adolescent torment, and the things we do for love.

The film's main protagonist, Owen, is the product of a broken home, a neglectful father, and is the victim of incessant bullying. By way of contrast, Abby is a 200 year old vampire, who lives with her supposed father, in the flat next door to Owen. As the result of continued, sometimes brutal, abuse, Owen begins to act out murderous scenarios in the form of knife attacks on unwitting trees, under the secretly watchful eye of Abby. Thus, an unlikely friendship is forged.

The film's main protagonist, Owen, is the product of a broken home, a neglectful father, and is the victim of incessant bullying. By way of contrast, Abby is a 200 year old vampire, who lives with her supposed father, in the flat next door to Owen. As the result of continued, sometimes brutal, abuse, Owen begins to act out murderous scenarios in the form of knife attacks on unwitting trees, under the secretly watchful eye of Abby. Thus, an unlikely friendship is forged.

The strength of this movie lies in its main characters. Despite its violence and troubling themes, Let Me In has a surprisingly tender love story at its centre. This is not a sexual tale, though it is the story of young love. Despite Abby being over 200 years old, she's emotionally stuck at age twelve: which means she behaves pretty much how you'd expect any 12 year old girl to act. She's shy, awkward, and comes across as both endearing and vulnerable.

Yet, both protagonists are damaged goods. Abby is a killer, whilst Owen fantasizes about killing: which, bizarrely, makes him the perfect friend for Abby. He accepts what she is. She's the kind of person he wants to be: strong, wilful, and utterly merciless. So, it's Abby who affects a change in Owen. She teaches him to stand up for himself, to push beyond his normal limits, which Owen eventually does... with disastrous consequences.

Much of what the first movie got right, this movie also gets right. The relationship between Abby and Owen is as compelling, maybe even more so, than in the original. Chloe Moretz (who can forget her sweet mouth in Kick Ass?) is terrific in the role of Abby. She's cute, innocent, sometimes frail looking, yet, at times, both brutal and grotesque. Likewise, Kodi Smit-McPhee (surely no relation to Nanny?), pulls out all the stops as the mentally spiralling Owen. You really feel his sense of separation and despair, to the point where, when the film's conclusion finally arrives, it comes as more of a relief than a shock.

Does the film stand up to the original? In some respects, no. Let The Right One In is an experience in itself, and is so unlike anything that Hollywood produces. Silence was a big part of the first movie. Each squeak and sigh had you on the edge of your seat. Let Me In features a more conventional music score. Sure, it gets loud in all the right places, but the frights feel more manufactured than organic. The CGI is also curiously sub-par. You remember how jerky Spidey's movements were in the first Spiderman movie? There's a little of that here, which unfortunately pulls you momentarily out of your suspension of disbelief.

The American remake also differs from the original in that it's set in New Mexico (as opposed to Stockholm), though it admittedly retains that feeling of snowy dread and foreboding. They've also removed the gang of old folks (Lacke and Co.) from the script, upgrading (or maybe downgrading) them to a young couple, and there's a heavier emphasis on the police investigation surrounding the murders. The relationship between the film's two main protagonists, however, remains mostly unchanged. In fact, vast chunks of dialogue from the original movie remain, as does the superbly awkward, yet touching, relationship between Owen and Abby.

But, where this film really shines, and maybe even tops its predecessor, is in its smoother flowing narrative and improved dialogue. Admittedly, the subtitles on the original were famously dumbed down for American audiences. (Read “altered beyond all recognition”). “You can jerk off at home” was changed to “time to go home” (because Americans can't cope with masturbation references, apparently), a simple cry of “Eli” was inexplicably changed to “I'm trapped? (Que?), and “Sweet” was changed to “Ooh- hh”. Perhaps it's not fair comparing the flow of translated subtitled dialogue with actual spoken dialogue -- but it's an improvement, nonetheless.

In short, this is a great film. The cast is superb (in particular Moretz and Smit-McPhee), and, even with some of the key scenes missing, it's a challenging watch. I'm not sure this is a film that will particularly appeal to Twi-hards -- Let Me In is to the vampire genre what Watchmen was the the superhero genre. It's a warts and all portrayal of what it's really like to be a vampire. It's devoid of glamour. They kiss with bloodied mouths and it doesn't look cool. The vampires smell, live in crappy flats, get cramps when they don't feed, and puke when they eat normal food. All in all, it's a pretty bleak existence.

But if you're after something a little different, where the vampires don't sparkle, and are curious to see what happens when a vampire enters a house uninvited, then Let Me In might just be the ticket.

Miss it at your peril.

**SPOILERS**

I found it interesting that they changed Haken's character (unnamed in this movie) from a paedophile, to that of a lifelong friend. The reasons why, I suppose, are obvious. But it does slightly alter the dynamic between Abby and Owen. Haken being just a friend, weakens their relationship. Is Owen simply a replacement for Haken, there to provide for Abby until he, like Haken, either gets caught or dies? I'm not altogether sure I like that idea. I wasn't overly keen on the paedophile angle, either, but at least it made Owen unique. An exception, rather than a necessity.

They cut the cat scene, too (an absolute hoot in the original), and the castration scar scene was also absent. (Owen still spies on Abby through the door, but, what he sees is left pretty much left to the imagination). Thus the emphasis is taken away from Abby being a castrated boy. Again, an understandable change. But it does detract somewhat from the richness of Lindqvist's original vision.

The final swimming pool scene, thankfully, remains intact, though at the end, the camera lingers on Owen's face, rather than the smiling Eli (Abby's name in the original). A shame, really, because it was one of the few times in Let The Right One In where Eli looked truly happy.

Did the film suffer as a result of these major changes? Personally, I think it lost a little of its edge. The characters seemed diluted. But, having the luxury of English speaking actors, did make me feel more connected to this movie than I did to the original. Of course, that feeling of disjointedness and isolation is probably what made Let The Right One In a truly memorable viewing experience in the first place.

All in all, a fascinating alternate vision of John Ajvide Lindqvist's original novel. Well worth a watch, even if it's just to moan at the changes.
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Also posted at The Time Meddler.

8 comments:

Victor said...

I've not seen Let Me In yet but I'm not keen. I thought that Let the Right One In was perfect.

It never occurred to me that Hakan could be a paedophile. But I also thought that Eli really did love Oscar. Although Oscar would probably end up with a similar fate to Hakan.

And also I did not get any of the castration scar stuff when I was watching the film. I didn't get what Oscar was supposed to have seen. What does it mean? Paul please share your wisdom!

Dimitri A.C. Ly said...

Hi, Victor, if you'll allow me to steal Paul's thunder (cue evil laughter), the scar and pedophilia are further explained in Lindqvist's book. I think the Swedish film deliberately left these elements ambiguous, referencing them but leaving it to the viewer to interpret them.

Just as I will leave it to Paul to decide whether explaining who Hakan is in the book and under what circumstances the castration took place constitute literary spoilers or worthy discussion for this board (cue evil laughter part II).

Great review, Paul. I still haven't seen the remake, but I really enjoyed reading you thoughts about it just the same, and I will definitely give the film a try when it comes out on Movie Network.

Paul Kelly said...

**Book and movie spoilers follow. Continue at your own risk**

Hi, Victor. Following on from Dimitri's comments, the book makes it quite clear that Haken is an ex-teacher, turned vagrant, because of his interest in young children. Similarly, Eli reveals to Oskar, through a series of psychic kisses (or something), how she was once a young boy, who was later castrated, and then turned into a vampire. The first movie, without ramming it down your throat, alludes to these things , firstly, by having Eli state repeatedly that she's not a girl, and secondly by showing you a brief shot of Eli's naked crotch, where a castration scar is clearly visible.

Let Me In (the remake) removes all allusions to Eli's true gender by interpreting the “I'm not a girl” statement as meaning she's nothing in human terms. A mere vampire. The castration scar scene is also missing... so Owen watching Abby getting dressed comes across as nothing more than adolescent curiosity.

Let Me In also rewrites Abby's history with the Haken character. In the remake they show a photo of Abby and Haken together as children - the implication being that Haken has grown up with Eli, and thus any show of affection between the two of them can be understood as a gesture of friendship, as opposed to any sort of favour from Abby in payment for him supplying her with fresh blood.

Like you, I prefer to think that Oskar truly loved Eli (whatever Eli's sexual orientation). In the book, once Eli's gender is revealed, Lindqvist stops referring to Eli as a “she” and starts calling him a “he”. I can highly recommend the book (if you're a fan of reading). It rounds out both films nicely.

Victor said...

Thanks Paul/Demitri. I will read the book. Although the castration scar/paedo teacher stuff has kind of turned me off a little bit. I think it's because I enjoyed the (supposed) simplicity of the story and I liked the (supposed) subtle pessimistic ending. I think my interpretation of the film was similar to how the Americans portrayed the story.

P.S. Great review Paul. I'm not 100% sold on the film (I tend to discriminate against American remakes) but the novel is now on my wishlist on Amazon.

Paul Kelly said...

Thanks, Victor. I think the story bears the weight of multiple interpretations, so a simpler rendering is just as valid as a complex one. On the DVD commentary of Let The Right One In, Lindqvist (the author of the book and scriptwriter) and Tomas Alfredson (the film's director), mention some of the alternative theories... including the possibility that Oskar dies in the pool, and that the ending is some kind of heaven scenario. Which only goes to prove this is a story open to interpretation.

aldacon said...

Hi

It's curious, I did not read the book, so when I saw Let The Right One In my interpretation was the one shown "explicitly" on the Hollywood version: Haken is not a friend, but the long-time couple of Eli... they met when they were young, they fall in love, and their relationship continued for many years... (that's why he asks her not to go with Oscar the night he is going to kill somebody else) maybe the kind of relationship that Eli will have with Oscar now. So what I love from the first version is that you can see the beggining and the tragic end of "the same relationship", always sorrounded by fear, killings and lonelines. On this interpretation appears the big question, is Eli really in love or is just looking for a new protector? I really think that she really loves them both, Oscar and Haken.

On the other hand, my interpretation on "Let me in" is
more about "the lost of innocence" and how Oscar will become the substitute. And it can be seen it from the beginning, when he is "stabbing" a tree, until the scene where he unmercessly closes the door to the policeman who is asking for help. I love that scene, because, unlike the first version, I really cared for that policeman, who is portrayed as a normal, decent person.

Paul Kelly said...

Hi aldacon. I like your interpretation of LTROI. I suppose the problem with any scenario which has a relationship occurring between Haken and Eli, is there's always that uncomfortable paedophile element. I've heard it suggested that Eli looks like a twelve year old on the outside, but is a grown-up on the inside. However, aside from Lindqvist and Alfredson's insistence that Eli is a twelve year old both emotionally and physically, you're then faced with the problem of a two hundred year old vampire falling in love with a 12 year old boy. Which just seems to reverse the problem.

Let Me In, by depicting Abby and her caretaker as friends of long standing,and having Abby being just a girl, is probably the best solution to cutting out the uncomfortable themes. That's assuming they need cutting out. I quite like films with morally dark characters and situations. Maybe one day someone will have the courage to make a faithful film adaptation of the book. Until then, even with some of its core elements watered down, the story is still strong enough to have spawned two excellent films. Which ain't too shabby.

Harry Earle said...

Thanks Paul, I was wondering whether to see this and you've definitely convinced me :)