Green Room

Let The Right Movie In

posted at 1:24 am on October 11, 2010 by

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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I own the DVD of Let the Right One In and went to see Let Me In last week. I agree with your assessment of the remake for the most part, though I was quite pleased by how closely it followed the original’s plot overall.

I don’t think the remake falls very short of its predecessor — if it does at all — as so often happens. And I’m very glad for that, because I love both movies for being the very rarest of rarities in modern cinema: a truly original, and genuinely unique “vampire” movie. In fact, it’s so different from everything we’ve come to expect from vampire movies that I honestly hesitate to even describe it as such to people. But as I commented on my own site (yeah, gratuitous plug, so sue me :p) after seeing the remake, it’s such a memorable and interesting story that it really deserves to be seen.

Cylor on October 11, 2010 at 3:42 AM

The original is on netflix’s instant watch so it should be available to everyone.
I heard that in the book the girl wasn’t a girl at all but had actually been castrated in the past.

tai-pan on October 11, 2010 at 5:03 AM

The original is on netflix’s instant watch so it should be available to everyone.
I heard that in the book the girl wasn’t a girl at all but had actually been castrated in the past.

tai-pan on October 11, 2010 at 5:03 AM

The Swedish version kind of implies that, though it’s a bit difficult to tell for certain. The remake kind of dances around it so as to avoid showing a 12-year-old girl nude below the waist in an R-rated movie, but the same scene does take place, which leads me to think the shot was probably edited out of the theatrical version and might be included in the DVD release. Abby’s dialogue relating to this is also somewhat more ambiguous than Eli’s was, but regardless, I always saw it as being somewhat open to interpretation.

Cylor on October 11, 2010 at 7:57 AM

That’s interesting Cylor. Didn’t read the book or see the remake but thought the original was good/unusual but was disturbed by the frontal shot of Eli. Though quick it was disconcerting to the point of me being hesistant to recomend the film to others.
Wrote it off to a more risque european view but that’s a new twist. Did they do the frontal as a youthful sexual discovery moment or was it in reference to the original character in the book?
Either way from an American conservative perspective I was quite put off by the perceived need for it.

onomo on October 11, 2010 at 8:39 AM

onomo on October 11, 2010 at 8:39 AM

I’m not familiar with the book either, so I could be way off base. But in the original film, when Eli told Oskar “I’m not a girl”, it was before her(?) vampiric nature had been revealed to him, and as such I always took it to mean “I’m not human”. In the remake, Abby’s line is even easier to interpret that way; she says, “I’m not a girl…I’m nothing.”

In both cases, it’s entirely possible that Eli/Abby was a male who’d been castrated…based on the brief glimpse we get, it’s also possible that she was a female who’d been subjected to some form of genital mutilation.

But in either case, I kind of think the whole “undead” thing sort of renders the question moot. ;)

Cylor on October 11, 2010 at 8:58 AM

Oh, I should have mentioned it earlier, but one minor correction, Dr. Z — if memory serves, Owen and Abby are the same age as Oskar and Eli.

One other personal note on the remake, specifically the “compression” of the neighbor lady who turns after being bitten. I think the way that played out in the remake was actually superior to the way it was handled in the original, in that the remake omits the unintentionally hilarious scene where she was attacked by a dozen or so cats belonging to another tenant.

Cylor on October 11, 2010 at 9:13 AM

O/T for a ‘vampire’ movie thread, but reading this made me think of a disturbing movie I saw over the weekend.

Hard Candy. Spoilers at the link, btw.

A young girl turns the tables on a pedophile murderer.

I missed the first part of the movie, maybe the first 20-30 minutes. Normally, I wouldn’t watch a movie after missing basically a third of it, but the movie pulled me in.

The movie is a psychological ‘thriller’, definitely NOT for viewers under 18yoa. Not gory or anything, but the subject matter is VERY serious.

catmman on October 11, 2010 at 10:02 AM

O/T for a ‘vampire’ movie thread, but reading this made me think of a disturbing movie I saw over the weekend.

Hard Candy. Spoilers at the link, btw.

catmman on October 11, 2010 at 10:02 AM

Haven’t seen it, but I have heard of it.

Cylor on October 11, 2010 at 10:52 AM

I saw this a week after it came out. It was better than good. Ronald Reagan’s in it. :D

A young girl turns the tables on a pedophile murderer.

catmman on October 11, 2010 at 10:02 AM

I’ve seen that. I don’t think he murdered anyone, though. But he was a pedophile and did witness a rape/murder.

Narutoboy on October 11, 2010 at 3:04 PM

Narutoboy on October 11, 2010 at 3:04 PM

He helped another guy rape and kill another child. Near the end of the flick, he tells the Ellen Page character he’ll tell her who was responsible, he’ll tell her everything she wants to know, that he didn’t do it, but knows who killed the child, etc.

She then confronts the guy that “that’s exactly what so and so said about you”. You don’t really know if he killed the girl, but the implication is there by his ‘confession’ and how she had already taken care of the other guy.

catmman on October 11, 2010 at 3:52 PM

Interesting to bring up “Hard Candy.” In some ways, the Ellen Page character is similar to Abby from “Let Me In.” She might be in the process of becoming a monster, or maybe she’s already crossed the line, and yet the audience can’t help but see her as a sympathetic character.

Her target is probably a monster – or does he just crack under intense pressure and babble anything he thinks she wants to hear? And yet, he’s also an intermittently sympathetic character, if only because the audience can’t help but share his desire to escape his situation. (Show this movie to a male friend, then try snapping rubber bands behind their backs to surprise them. It’s fun!)

Oh, I should have mentioned it earlier, but one minor correction, Dr. Z — if memory serves, Owen and Abby are the same age as Oskar and Eli.

One other personal note on the remake, specifically the “compression” of the neighbor lady who turns after being bitten. I think the way that played out in the remake was actually superior to the way it was handled in the original, in that the remake omits the unintentionally hilarious scene where she was attacked by a dozen or so cats belonging to another tenant.

Cylor on October 11, 2010 at 9:13 AM

I saw “Let The Right One In” quite a while ago, so my memory of the characters’ ages is probably colored by their youthful appearance, and the lack of American pop-culture landmarks of age. I thought they were supposed to be slightly younger.

The treatment of Collateral Damage Vampire Lady is an interesting difference between the films. In the original, she’s sort of dark comic relief, but the director of the U.S. remake didn’t want to shift focus from the kids, or interrupt his narrative with creepy-goofy scenes. I thought the remake offered her as evidence of Abby’s destructive power, and perhaps food for the thoughtful viewer to ask if Abby relies on her caretakers because she doesn’t want to spread her condition. Does she have enough of a humanitarian impulse to keep her bloody impact on the human race to a minimum… or is this merely the prudence of a predator that doesn’t want competition, particularly since she’s trapped in such a small body?

Doctor Zero on October 11, 2010 at 4:06 PM

If it doesn’t have angsty tweens in it, I’m not interested. (/s)

This showed up on my radar a bit back and I’ll be sure to check out both versions, Doc.

Rightwingguy on October 11, 2010 at 6:24 PM

Speaking of blood suckers, I just saw the wonderfully inspiring movie, “Secretariat.” One of the plot points is that after the death of her father, the protagonist is faced with a six million dollar estate tax and the only resource she has to raise the money is to sell her horse, Secretariat. It reminded me of how many other businesses were forced to close or sell because people couldn’t afford the estate tax or death tax the government levies. The Democrats really are the party of vampires.

NNtrancer on October 11, 2010 at 7:54 PM

The treatment of Collateral Damage Vampire Lady is an interesting difference between the films. In the original, she’s sort of dark comic relief, but the director of the U.S. remake didn’t want to shift focus from the kids, or interrupt his narrative with creepy-goofy scenes. I thought the remake offered her as evidence of Abby’s destructive power, and perhaps food for the thoughtful viewer to ask if Abby relies on her caretakers because she doesn’t want to spread her condition. Does she have enough of a humanitarian impulse to keep her bloody impact on the human race to a minimum… or is this merely the prudence of a predator that doesn’t want competition, particularly since she’s trapped in such a small body?

Doctor Zero on October 11, 2010 at 4:06 PM

All interesting questions. It’s also worth noting that in both movies, when Eli/Abby kills the one guy under the bridge, she very deliberately snaps his neck after she’s done feeding on him, so as to prevent him from turning. In the case of “C.D.V. Lady”, she’s basically in a frenzied state when she attacks her, and is chased off before she can “properly” finish the job, which results in her subsequent transformation. So in both cases, it’s safe to say the creation of another “collateral” vamp was accidental on Eli/Abby’s part, which supports the idea of it being symbolic of her inherently destructive nature.

There’s also another significant difference in the way the two movies approach this particular subplot. In the Swedish version, the woman is conscious and aware of what she’s becoming, and actually ends up committing suicide by asking someone to open the blinds on her window when she’s in the hospital. In the remake, her behavior is much more instinctive and animalistic; when she awakens in the hospital, she actually starts feeding on the blood that’s being pumped intravenously into her arm (presumably a transfusion to replace what she’d lost), and is inadvertently incinerated by a nurse who opens the blinds.

Cylor on October 12, 2010 at 2:06 AM

Looking forward to viewing one or both of these films. They sound like an interesting departure from conventional fare.

This thread reminded me of one low-budget film that strayed quite a bit from the typical vampire character. The Night Flier (1997) is something I remember only because the creature was such an unearthly horror, precluding any empathy or seductive quality. It flew an airplane at night and sought victims at rural airports. Very gruesome, but Miguel Ferrer held my attention as a reporter tracking (presumably) a serial killer.

Half-heartedly, I got Twilight from Netflix to see if it lived up to the hype. Meh. Some commenters on a mil-blog were perplexed at female attraction to effete males. I guess the vampire element is a substitute draw for wakening female fascination.

Whatever the case, it’s meant for teenage girls and their moms.

Feedie on October 12, 2010 at 4:33 AM

Cylor on October 11, 2010 at 8:58 AM

I saw the original but must be blocking out the nude scene. When she said she’s not a girl, I was only thinking that she meant she wasn’t human – and technically not a girl, since she’s who knows how old.

Haven’t seen the new one, but I’m not surprised that it’s less subtle. I don’t think that’s just because it’s an American remake specifically but because it’s been remade for an American audience. I like the original, but I prefer a little less subtlety. Let the Right One In just wasn’t at all scary to me.

Maybe I’ll disagree if I see the remake.

Esthier on October 12, 2010 at 12:32 PM

Her target is probably a monster – or does he just crack under intense pressure and babble anything he thinks she wants to hear? And yet, he’s also an intermittently sympathetic character, if only because the audience can’t help but share his desire to escape his situation.

Doctor Zero on October 11, 2010 at 4:06 PM

I thought it was very clear that the man was a monster. The only thing that seemed unclear to me was whether or not he’d crossed the line from pedophile to murderer, but on either side of that line, he’s still a monster.

Yes, there is sympathy for him but none that would prevent anyone from at the very least turning him into police and happily understanding what awaits him in prison.

Esthier on October 12, 2010 at 12:38 PM

Don’t remember the “I’m not a girl line”. Been a while and the open interpretations here are very good points.
I think the subtleness of the origional LTROI was what made it so much more creepy for me Esthier.
Her caretaker opening the hospital window and leaning forward without hesitation to give his life that she might have a meal was incredibly undertoned. And that’s what made it so haunting to me.
Where as the bluntness of “30 Days of Night” I thought worked well for it.
And as much as I’d prefer to forget about the nude scene of Eli it seemed the purpose show her clevereness and increasing manipulation of the boy, drawing him closer. Telling him not to peak all the while standing in position for him to see when he did.

onomo on October 12, 2010 at 1:00 PM

I think the subtleness of the origional LTROI was what made it so much more creepy for me Esthier.
Her caretaker opening the hospital window and leaning forward without hesitation to give his life that she might have a meal was incredibly undertoned. And that’s what made it so haunting to me.

I agree that it was creepy, but I didn’t find it scary or even haunting. Disturbing is probably more appropriate, but even that feeling was short-lived for me. The man didn’t have much better options available, and there didn’t seem to be an emotional attachment between them. His function was to feed her, didn’t really matter how.

And as much as I’d prefer to forget about the nude scene of Eli it seemed the purpose show her clevereness and increasing manipulation of the boy, drawing him closer. Telling him not to peak all the while standing in position for him to see when he did.

onomo on October 12, 2010 at 1:00 PM

That’s sounding a bit more familiar now, though I’m still drawing a partial blank.

I did think the movie was good and have recommended it to others, but it’s much less accessible than films that are a bit more blunt and leave less up to the viewer to decide.

Haven’t seen 30 Days, but I have heard good things about it. There’s definitely a market for subtle horror, especially when dealing with young, undead children.

Esthier on October 12, 2010 at 2:46 PM

The man didn’t have much better options available, and there didn’t seem to be an emotional attachment between them. His function was to feed her, didn’t really matter how.
Esthier on October 12, 2010 at 2:46 PM

Yeah but that’s what kept going thru my noggin after the movie. You get the feeling it didn’t start our unemotional. You get the feeling he had started out just like Oskar. Young, picked on, profiled and recruited by Eli in the same manner decades earlier. There was even a brief sign of concern in a scene in their apartment where the old caretaker said something like, “I don’t want you to see that boy again”. Like he sensed his potential replacement though I didn’t see that as a potential point of his view until after the movie.
It wasn’t until after the movie I began to feel that what I actually saw in the old man was Oskar’s own fate and story at it ending. Quite different in regards to emotion than how it began. Very sad.
Good points. Thank you for the discussion.

onomo on October 12, 2010 at 4:33 PM

Yeah but that’s what kept going thru my noggin after the movie. You get the feeling it didn’t start our unemotional. You get the feeling he had started out just like Oskar. Young, picked on, profiled and recruited by Eli in the same manner decades earlier. There was even a brief sign of concern in a scene in their apartment where the old caretaker said something like, “I don’t want you to see that boy again”. Like he sensed his potential replacement though I didn’t see that as a potential point of his view until after the movie.

It wasn’t until after the movie I began to feel that what I actually saw in the old man was Oskar’s own fate and story at it ending. Quite different in regards to emotion than how it began. Very sad.

onomo on October 12, 2010 at 4:33 PM

To its credit, the remake included every single one of those details about the caretaker, including his asking Abby not to “see that boy again”. In fact, as Dr. Z mentioned, I think his character was explored a bit more in the remake than it was in the original. During their argument over his botched blood run toward the beginning of the movie, he says, “Maybe I’m getting sloppy…maybe I’m just tired of it. Maybe I want to get caught.”

As for 30 Days of Night, that is definitely another example — perhaps even a clearer one — of a “vampire movie” in which the vampires are portrayed in an absolutely unsympathetic, totally un-romanticized light. You will hate the vampires in that movie, and yes, they are definitely scary. It’s also a spectacular movie…right up until the final 10-15 minutes or so, where it suddenly takes a turn for the absurd and as a result, unfortunately, it then loses most of its…well…bite.

Cylor on October 13, 2010 at 2:31 AM

BTW, Esthier, the reason you don’t remember the nude shot in LTROI is probably because it was on screen for less than the space of one second. You could literally blink and miss it.

Cylor on October 13, 2010 at 6:36 AM

It wasn’t until after the movie I began to feel that what I actually saw in the old man was Oskar’s own fate and story at it ending. Quite different in regards to emotion than how it began. Very sad.

And that likely was the point of his character in the movie. But knowing so little about him, I didn’t personally care too much and didn’t find myself thinking about him after the movie was over. So that probably just goes back to my preference for a little less subtlety. The way Cylor describes his character in the American movie seems a bit more attractive to me.

Good points. Thank you for the discussion.

onomo on October 12, 2010 at 4:33 PM

Thanks, yours as well.

Esthier on October 13, 2010 at 1:16 PM

BTW, Esthier, the reason you don’t remember the nude shot in LTROI is probably because it was on screen for less than the space of one second. You could literally blink and miss it.

Cylor on October 13, 2010 at 6:36 AM

In truth, I probably did. I’m vaguely remembering something about him being asked to close his eyes.

Esthier on October 13, 2010 at 1:17 PM