TWICE BITTEN: “LET ME IN” VS. “LET THE RIGHT ONE IN” Image

Open the door. Embrace this movie miracle. Let it in.

“Let Me In” is onscreen type o negative.  It’s a rare, delicate transfusion of European blood into an American movie production. It mixes torrents of stateside gore with the more refined, thoughtful plasma of European cinema. This approach seldom works. But in the respectful hands of director Matt Reeves, “Let Me In” combines two often-clashing flavors in ways that taste great together.

“Let Me In” is currently in wide release, spraying crimson onto multiplex screens across the nation. But Reeves’ chilling film is actually someone else’s undead, resurrected baby. With his 1984 novel “Let the Right One In” (“Låt den rätte komma in”), Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist initially conceived the film’s melancholy, coming-of-age romance between a bullied boy and his connection-starved vampire muse.

Inevitably, the Swedish film industry came calling. Lindqvist donated several pints from the book’s fertile blood bank to director Tomas Alfredson, whose previous resume consisted primarily of stage productions. Alfredson, who would later admit to “not being a horror fan,” seemed ill equipped to transfer Lindqvist’s dark vision from page to screen. But strange bedfellows often create fresh and potent synergies. Like a stealth grim reaper, “Let the Right One In” quietly slipped into theaters in 2008 to stun, terrify, and touch art-house audiences and critics alike.

It also exposed the shrill, stupid “Twilight,” released the same year, as a saccharine fraud.

Alfredson’s film follows Oskar (Kare Hedebrant), a fragile twelve-year old towhead enduring relentless bullying from some particularly nasty schoolyard peers. Oskar exists unseen and unwanted, residing in a depressing apartment also inhabited by his disengaged mother. Behind bedroom walls, this seemingly benign boy vents his anger at being unjustly victimized. Wielding a gleaming pocketknife, Oskar jabs at make-believe assailants, taunting these nonexistent foes with Travis Bickle-styled rants.

“You talking to me, piggy?”

Oskar spends lonely evenings in a snow-covered playground, fidgeting with a Rubik’s Cube amidst jungle gym and teeter-totter. One evening, another lonely soul enters his outdoor sanctuary. Eli (Lina Leandersson) is a raven-haired, shoeless girl recently moved into Oskar’s apartment complex. Why don’t her feet get cold, and why does she smell funny? Eli is an odd duck, but she’s pretty and bold, filling a void in Oskar’s more tentative demeanor. Opposites attract. Soon, Eli grants Oskar his wish to “go steady.”

But surrounding their tentative romance is a series of ghoulish murders. Adolescent boys are tied at the ankles, hung upside down, and drained of their blood. Grown men are assaulted in alleyways, throats ripped out and bodies frozen solid. More dead bodies are fished out of nearby lakes.

Is Eli, or the timid older man sharing her apartment, behind these ghastly crimes?

“Let the Right One In” is magic in its tone, imagery, and subtle attention to human yearning. It’s both a delicate fairy tale, and a dive into horror depravity. It’s a vampire film, all right, but one that jettisons the genre’s familiar conventions. No garlic. No stakes. No clichés.

Alright, then. If “Let the Right One In” is a perfect ten, why the remake?

Most American retreads disrespectfully toss all subtlety to the wind, making a grab for the brand name but none of the details that made the original unique. But Reeves, whose underrated “Cloverfield” spun an overdone “Godzilla” premise into harrowing new directions, seems hell-bent on protecting all that’s sacred about Alfredson’s vision.

My favorite scene from “Let the Right One In” brings Oskar and Eli together for the first time.  Standing beneath a pitch-black night sky in his icy playground comfort zone, Oskar senses a presence. The boy’s keen intuition tells him to turn around. As Oskar’s head, neck, and trunk swivel left, Alfredson’s camera follows in a smooth, unbroken tracking shot. Both protagonist and viewer share in an eerie first-time image of the pale, barefoot Eli standing silently atop a jungle gym.

This slight shifting of the camera, from Oskar to Eli, has become one of horror’s most iconic moments. Your typical Hollywood hack would miss it. But Reeves clearly understands the power of this seemingly minor ninety-degree turn. He nails it. Again. One could argue that he’s stolen the shot….but if you’re gonna steal, why not take from the best? Likewise, why fix what’s not broken?

Another “Right One…” detail reveals the “hows” and “whys” behind a noxious bully’s sociopathic behavior. Late in the film, we watch his interactions with an even more dangerous older brother. S**t rolls downhill. Tainted fraternal influence, it would seem, has taken its toll. The importance of this short, discreet scene isn’t lost on Reeves, who wisely carries it over into his rendition.

Speaking of bullying, both films feel in their bones the awful horror of school stalking. Kids are cruel. And like the transference of evil from brother to brother, victims of abuse can – and oftentimes will – express their rage through tragic acts. During a conversation with Alfredson in 2008, the director told me, ““I have been in a similar situation when I was younger. When children are being bullied this way, I don’t think they get sad and sentimental over it. They grow a lot of anger.”

Reeves also remains true to the key ingredient from Alfredson’s film: a sense of quiet. I once asked the director if there were cultural difference that made “Let the Right One In” feel so unique. “Maybe it’s (an example of) our way to communicate through silence,” he suggested. “That silence is also a way of speaking. Not answering a question can actually be a way of answering a question.”

This philosophy is carried into “Let Me In.” Words are allowed to suspend themselves and resonate. The grating jabber of most American movies is filtered out. When a key character proclaims, in tired resignation, “I’m nothing,” it carries weight. In both films, words are actually worth something.

Reeves also beefs up the role of Eli’s paternal adult caregiver, a weary hunter assigned the unenviable task of bleeding out corpses and harvesting blood. In the original film, Alfredson presents this mysterious manservant (played by Per Ragnar) as a grizzled, standoffish depressive who bleeds victims with the passive drudgery of a mechanic changing oil.

“Let Me In” provides considerably more dimension, courtesy of the superbly subtle Richard Jenkins. Unequaled for depicting repressed everymen, Jenkins plays Eli’s resigned slave as an angry, tired soul who loves his master, while simultaneously resenting a lifetime of murderous servitude. “Maybe I’m getting sloppy,” he confesses to Eli after a botched blood search. “Maybe I want to get caught.”

And when he’s on the prowl, hiding his stubbly, pockmarked face and cracked glasses with a wrinkled black trash bag, Jenkins is truly terrifying. Brandishing a duffel bag bulging with funnel, ether, razors, and acid, he’s a seasoned veteran of murder. We know he must hunt. We know he will kill. We feel the dark ache of a man who has wasted and tainted his life through repeated acts of evil.

Okay. Let’s review our notes. “Let Me In” succeeds by respecting the original film’s crucial details, and by fleshing out supporting characters. But it also adds some spices of its own. An undercover cop (Elias Koteas) adds flair and shape to the narrative. We begin our filmic journey alongside this lawman, inside a swerving, careening ambulance. From this gripping opening scene, Koteas becomes the consistent thread that holds “Let Me In” together. In a pivotal final scene, he also symbolizes the voluntary loss of innocence – and a resignation to the tempting pull of evil.

Meanwhile, Reeves slices a few pieces of unwanted fat from the original film’s script. A clumsy cat-attack scene, in which low-budget CGI doesn’t quite make the jump from silly to scary, is jettisoned. Random, pub-inhabiting townies from the first film are re-invented as tenants from a single apartment complex. The whole narrative is more sleek and streamlined.

Alright, then. Details and supporting players aside, do the two leads do justice to their predecessors?

“Let the Right One In” hit casting pay dirt with Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson. Their physical contrast is striking: Hedebrant is light personified, all pallid skin and straw-colored hair. A physical runt with the drowsy demeanor of a boy sleepwalking through life, Hedebrant plays Oskar as vulnerability incarnate. Meanwhile, Leandersson is the dark flipside. Her eyes are gray, her hair jet-black. Eli reflects a complex mix of strength and sadness. She’s both aggressive and melancholy, the dynamic battery to illuminate Oskar’s flat affect. There’s irony here: Eli might be an supernatural being who lives through death, but she’s infinitely more alive than Oskar’s meek mortal.

In “Let Me In,” the scene is switched from Sweden to Regan-era New Mexico. Oskar and Eli become Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Abby (Chloe Moretz). Frankly, this film’s leads are better actors. But is this necessarily a good thing? Hedebrant and Leandersson created a natural, unforced chemistry that didn’t come across as acting. The two new leads deliver lines in a more scripted, obvious manner. That’s not to say that this is a bad thing. It’s comparing apples to oranges…or different blood types.

As Owen, Kodi Smit-McPhee creates a more complex character than his predecessor. Owen is a creature of the senses. He nurtures sight as a peeping tom, aiming his bedroom telescope at the windows of unsuspecting neighbors. His sense of sound comes in handy for listening through walls and hearing the strange noises emanating from Abby’s next-door apartment. Taste is satiated through Now and Later candy chunks. And during his first encounter with the malnourished, blood-craving Abby, he tells her, “You smell funny.”

Owen’s senses might be keenly developed, but he’s lonely and love-starved. Reeves accentuates this by reducing Owen’s parents to unseen human husks. His mother’s face is never fully visible. His father’s only interactions with Owen are icy, critical telephone calls. In “Let Me In,” the protagonist is more tormented. While Oskar seemed insulated within in some protective, inexpressive cocoon, Owen is putting himself out there, taking a chance, trying to connect. But he’s being rejected and abused at every corner. It’s tragic.

Meanwhile, can Moretz effectively sink her fangs into the complex role of Abby, a vampiric Jekyll and Hyde who’s both savior and slave-maker?  Absolutely. Her tentative relationship with Owen carries all of the potent emotion that made the original touching. When Owen offers Abby one of his cherished Now and Later candies, Abby accepts it – knowing all along that vampire G.I. tracts aren’t compatible with sweets. It’s a gesture of how badly she wants to connect with this potential soul mate.

But is Abby really a soul mate – or soul stealer?

When Moretz satiates her need for teeth-in-neck nourishment, the attacks are sudden, sloppy, and brutal. Reeves milks a trick from Stanley Kubrick, framing Abby’s post-murder expressions with an intensity that will make your flesh crawl. Think back to Kubrick killers like “Full Metal Jacket’s” Gomer Pyle, or “The Shining’s” Jack Torrance – downward eyes slowly rising in expressions of ecstatic evil. Moretz adds to this shrine of effectively satanic faces.

In the end, both films ask two disturbing questions with the same levels of skill, intensity, and imagination. Given the choice between the embrace of supernatural evil and the cruel rejection of humanity, which would you make?  Meanwhile, as Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor once wrote, can one find happiness in slavery?

Abby and Owen might be dancing with the Devil. But film fans can rejoice in this heaven-sent miracle: an American remake that lives up to its foreign predecessor. Open the door, and savor its black magic spell.

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  1. Jake Gilday says:

    “Posted on October 4, 2010 in Features by KJ Doughton”

    THERE CAN NEVER BE EVIL WITHOUT GOODNESS;

    Hey! Thank you so very much KJ Doughton for writing such a neck-piercing comparison between “Let Me In” and “Let The Right One In”. You may have changed my life for the better with your words and that final question of both films.

    I found these two halves of the same dark story a few days ago,
    (I had never heard of the book before that, but I always liked Chloe Grace-Moretz and I was fascinated by Matt Reeves’s “Dawn of the planet of the apes”)
    and all I can say is that I all but fell in love with both Swedish and American versions of this story, along with Oskar(Owen)& Eli(Abby)’s tender, dangerous relationship.

    I feel intensely now that you have captured the message of this story in your last paragraph:
    “Given the choice between the embrace of supernatural evil and the cruel rejection of humanity, which would you make?”
    It is such a disturbing, personal and relevant question. Is supernatural evil worse than human evil?

    It partly asks, “Which would you sacrifice your happiness, or your soul?”
    Because “Let Me In” contains direct illusions to Satanic undertones, and both movies contain the supernatural, this question is presented in pitch-black and grim solemnness.
    The state of our souls and spirits is so important to us all, but so is also security and innocence and happiness.
    At the end, Owen embraces evil to lot be alone. He’s helping a vampire, and will probably lose his humanity by becoming one himself. But he was so lonely.

    It would have been inhumane – and maybe evil – for Owen to betray Abby and kill her with sunlight, and he might have lost his will to live alone as well as his humanity. But he also would have saved so many innocent lives by doing so.
    And because Abby had supernatural evil inside her, I think embracing supernatural evil would destroy humanity, quicker than if Owen did so himself.

    As much as I like them both, and I emphathize with Abby and Owen (good Abby was NOT the real evil in herself), I think Owen’s human evil was a piece of cake compared to hers.
    He could have risked losing his humanity, and his best friend, for the sake of killing a supernatural evil, because there would have been Hope he would have regained his humanity again. I hope there are no real vampires to put humans through that living hell, either as vampire or caretaker. Poor Owen.

    I think your question then brings into account whether you believe in innate and supernatural goodness.

    Well, I strongly feel that if there is supernatural evil, there is also supernatural good. Both big good and big evil were in these movies, with the vampire killings and Abby’s tender desire for love showing this in one deadly and beautiful character.

    This is almost as long as your review and comparison! Sorry about that.

    But I now think a horror movie can show horrific themes on good and evil that are important to swallow when bitter.

    Again, thank you sir for writing your review!

  2. Dennis says:

    I watched “Let Me In” first because I watched “The Road” and “Kick A*s” and loved Chloe and Kodi in each respectively. The itneraction between the two was amazing and when you put yourself in the shoes of each you can feel their pain, love, and joy. But it didn’t stop there. Richard Jenkins was amazing and again you could feel him not wanting to kill but wanting to provide for Abby. As much as I felt for those three, I felt just as much for the main bully. It is easy to condemn a kid for picking on weaker ones but imagine what he is put through, not by a stranger but his own brother, and you can get some sense of why he bullies Owen. The kid had not fully “turned” as his brother did when you saw the remorse during the pool scene. Reeves did an excellant job.

    I then watched “Let The Right One In” and loved it as well and even though there were similar scenes it didn’t bother me because they were well done in both movies.

    I then read the book and was not disappointed. The one thing that did disappoint me overall was they never touched deep enough on Eli/Abby’s transformation. The Vampire genre today is all about how its all based on love and everyone sparkles but being a vampire is a curse and the scene described in the book would have shown that. I found out that a deleted scene from “Let Me In” touched on it but American audiences looked at it as too much of a rape of a 12 yr old and it was left out.

    Either way loved both movies and the book.

  3. Sandra says:

    Has no one done they’re research. The most important aspect of the book and original movie was that Eli was in fact a male vampire who was castrated and wears girls clothes. The remake didn’t have this and i haven’t seen an article yet that mentions it

  4. Jade says:

    Just finished watching Let me in and I have to admit it was quite good. But it wasn’t different enough from the only two years old and praised Let the right one in. I just don’t see any point in why they did this version when the first is so much better in every way and still very popular. I really hope people will watch the original first!

  5. Marty L says:

    Great article here. Tough comparison between two fine movies. I like the way the remake streamlined the plot, but it really does lose some of the tenderness of the original. That comes from the chemistry of the two Swedish actors. Like the reviewer said, the LMI actors might be better, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s best for the viewer.

    The novel is more disturbing than both versions, btw. Eli is actually a castrated boy. You can briefly see the scar in the original after her bloody shower. This is why Abby constantly says in the re-make that she’s not a girl. Not because she’s a supernatural vampire, but because she’s a boy. And yes, the caretaker is a pedophile. In the novel she doesn’t meet him when he’s young, though. The original movie makes his character vague on purpose. I do like the re-make going more toward his role as Owen’s predecessor.

    I believe whichever version you saw first, you’ll like more. Loved both. My fave’s the original =).

  6. Andy says:

    I’m from Sweden myself so I have heard plenty of good concerning “let the right one in” which is why I checking the Internet some concerning the movie before when I found this page. Unlike some of the superficial comments I seen around the web like “why see a remake of an already good movie” and such alike I actually plans to get both the original and the remake now. Most American remakes of various movies that I come across so far has ended up as hollow shells compared to the original, but from what I read here and at other places has me in high hopes concerning both version of the movie.

  7. Sadie says:

    I saw “let Me In” in theaters and I loved it!! I also have it on Netflix now, so I’ve watched it again since then. although, I had no idea that it was a remake until last night when i turned on my tv and i realized i was basically watching the same movie but in subtitles. I turned on my Wii and started comparing the 2. I like the re-make better, maybe because I saw it first, but I think the effects were better and the Mom was less annoying in the re-make.

  8. Robc says:

    Both films are fantastic. I’m more partial To Chloe Moretz. She’s just to cute to ignore :p

  9. Curtis says:

    I watched “Let the Right One In” last night and I have to say, for me personally, I like the remake ” Let Me In” better. The original has a more developed story between the boy and girl, but the remake more accurately depicts what the girl is as well as more action. Both movies are good, but the second gets my vote.

  10. Stina Chyn says:

    I’ve seen both. I enjoyed the original a lot as well as the remake. But, the boy in the remake really got on my nerves.

  11. David Zahir says:

    I am so weary of people complaining about a movie they haven’t seen, expressing expert opinions on a subject of which they by definition are totally ignorant.

    With that cast and that director, I was hopeful. Having actually watched the film I was very impressed. This is indeed a re-adaptation of the novel, with some bits lifted from the first screenplay (written by the novelist). Its cultural setting ended up genuinely different–one remains Swedish and the other American in all sorts of interesting ways. The other big difference was that Eli’s caretaker seemed to me a pedophile in love–and the novel showed I was right. LMI makes Abby’s caretaker a predecessor of Owen’s, a frankly more disturbing image. The bullying torture of Owen is the more vicious kind I associate with my own schooldays.

    Actually, most of the so-called “shot-for-shot” scenes are from the book. One might as well call Mel Gibson’s HAMLET a copy of Lawrence Olivier’s because they both have this guy talking to a ghost, then a skull, and has a sword fight after the girl he loves goes mad and kills herself.

    Good thing the movie only cost $20 million. After two weeks it has made almost half that–with foreign box office, DVD sales, etc. still to take into account. While I love both films, I must acknowledge that audiences get into moods about what to see.

  12. I will download this movie for free. I consider the first movie a masterpiece and might treat the remake with an open mind if it didn’t copy whole sequences and shots. I might not have even minded that if the filmmaker didn’t claim he was adapting the book not remaking the movie. Copying the pool scene is a dead giveaway. I’m glad this movie seems to be tanking, this kind of laziness shouldn’t be encouraged. I am lucky enough to live in Rochester, NY where the original has been put on the big screen three times already but most people have to see the doppelganger if they want to see it in the theater.
    My ironic theory is, if the remake had been a totally Americanized reboot it would have made a s**t-ton of money.

  13. Tom Baker says:

    The remake looks promising and I will see it but like most remakes I wait for the DVD. I have only heard great things about the movie, though.

  14. @El Jefe: Copying and pasting someone’s comment is pretty weak. Like this remake! Bazinga.

  15. Chris Mack says:

    I’m certainly intrigued. The one thing I have heard is that the remake didn’t pick up on one of the lower hanging fruits in the Swedish version: the notion that Eli is from somewhere else, the suggestion that she has slightly semitic features – as this bears some significance in the closed culture, softly xenophobic Sweden of the early 80s. What of the New Mexico landscape. Can a similar theme be tapped into – even subtly? I don’t think that this is insignificant – and points to some of the more enduring dimensions of the vampire genre.

  16. Mark Bell says:

    I don’t think the remake was marketed very well. Early commercials made it seem more sinister than it is, and then the latest commercials turned it into a bully revenge plot. Despite having seen the original, and knowing what the film really was, even I was turned off by the advertising for it.

  17. This has been one of the most highly praised remakes I’ve heard of in years. And yet…it got trounced at the box office this last weekend by The Social Network, a fictionalized biography of a corporate wonk, the modern-day equivalent of Edison the Man. Maybe horror has run its course for a while, and people are suffering vampire fatigue from all that overexposure.

  18. KJ Doughton says:

    I agree with you that the sequel didn’t quite capture the same bittersweet details that made the original relationship so unique. It could have let some of the courtship scenes linger a bit longer. Still, a fantastic re-make. And that car wreck is bloody brilliant.

  19. Kenny Young says:

    The remake is better in every area except one, the original has a greater sense of tenderness, and ambiguity. It is this one thing, which in terms of the relationship is a big thing, that makes me not know which I like better.

  20. El Jefe says:

    No thanks, I’m not interested in yet another vapid “I won’t watch it because it’s a remake” comment.

  21. No thanks. I’m not interested in a remake of an already great movie.

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