Let The Right Movie In
posted at 1:24 am on October 11, 2010 by Doctor Zero
Vampires are drawing big audiences on movie and TV screens these days. The “Twilight” series and HBO’s True Blood have become pop-culture phenomena. For my money, the best vampire tale in recent years was Let the Right One In, a 2008 Swedish film based on a John Ajvide Lindqvist novel. Although it’s only a few years old, it has already been remade as Let Me In, with the setting moved from Stockholm to New Mexico. It certainly isn’t threatening the box-office dominance of “Twilight”, but it’s an excellent horror film in its own right. It’s interesting to compare the American version to the original. If you prefer to see vampires depicted as monsters, instead of manic-depressive super heroes, you can’t go wrong with either film.
The story follows the quiet bloom of romance between two lonely, outcast twelve-year-old kids named Owen and Abby (Oskar and Eli in the original film.) Owen lives with his divorced mom, who doesn’t understand him, and plays only a background role in his life. A nice visual touch in the remake is that her face is never seen clearly – she’s reminiscent of the unseen, incomprehensible parents in the “Peanuts” comic strip.
Abby moves into Owen’s apartment building with a shy, creepy older man who appears to be her father, but the true nature of their relationship is far more complex. Abby is a vampire, and the older man is her caretaker, charged with protecting her during the day, and bringing her the blood of surgically murdered victims each night.
The caretaker is killed during a botched blood harvest, leaving Abby to fend for herself… and her methods are far less clean and painless. Owen wrestles with his growing love for Abby, and his horror at her monstrous nature, leading to an unforgettable climax where he learns what both of them are truly capable of.
As with Gore Verbinski’s remake of The Ring, the Hollywood production values of Let Me In are its own worst enemy. Expensive but unconvincing CGI effects are used in place of the original film’s cheaper but more effective stunt work. The new version works much harder to make Abby frightening when she cuts loose. I thought the child ghost from The Ring became much less unsettling when she turned into ten million dollars’ worth of computer animation, and the same is true here. The scenes where Abby attacks adult victims appear to have been directed with a Nintendo Wii controller. The climactic scene raised more goosebumps when it was understated, and half over before the audience realized what it was seeing.
Leaving special effects aside, the other creative decisions in Let Me In are interesting. The original film left the history between Abby and her caretaker vague, while the remake is very explicit, building a concrete narrative that was originally left to the imagination. We have a much clearer idea of how long the caretaker has served his youthful mistress, and what motivates him. He’s a more solid, intriguing character, well-played by Richard Jenkins. For better or worse, American remakes of horror movies tend to be less subtle than the originals.
The remake puts the kids center stage, moving all of the adults – except a cop played by Elias Koteas – into the background. A subplot about a woman accidentally turned into a vampire is compressed into a single scene that effectively demonstrates why Abby prefers to let her caretaker do the hunting. Abby and Owen are a bit older than Eli and Oskar were in the original, and their relationship includes more elements of preteen romance familiar to American audiences. The relationship between the young leads, like the Stockholm scenery, was more sterile in the first movie. Let Me In wants us to see Owen as a bit less weird and distant than Oskar was, making his deepening attachment to Abby more dangerous and disturbing. We find ourselves offering quiet “attaboys!” when this lonely, awkward lad scores points with his first girlfriend… only to recoil in horror when we remember what we’re applauding.
Both versions of the story are driven by the young vampire, a fascinating character who haunts our imaginations long after the credits roll. As she tells Owen, she’s twelve years old… but she’s been twelve for a very long time. She’s a cunning predator who has survived for many years in a hostile world, and she loves solving puzzles. Abby is more feminine than Eli was in the original, played with wistful charm by Chloe Moretz in a performance that seems more shallow at first… but are we, and Owen, seeing only what she wants us to see? Does she have any real capacity for human feeling, or has experience simply made her exceptionally good at faking it? Is Owen falling in love, or filling out a job application?
Carefully watch the scenes where Abby encourages her new friend to fight back against the bullies who have been tormenting him. Is she trying to help him… or is she setting up a test? The original film made these questions harder to answer. The remake tips its cards through little details like the carefully provocative way she shows Owen what happens when she enters a room uninvited – an action presented as a passionate display of stubborn affection in the earlier movie.
The best horror stories inspire us to think forward, beyond the final pages or images. The author shows us the way, and we find terror in an epilogue we write for ourselves. Let Me In lights that path with flashing neon, by humming a few bars from a chillingly repurposed advertising jingle. Let The Right One In was content to use candlelight. Obvious or subtle, it’s a path worth following for horror fans. Whatever else you can say about Abby, she doesn’t brood, and she doesn’t sparkle. Vampires are scary again.
Cross-posted at www.doczero.org.
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