I, for one, did not need another film version of JOHN AJVIDE LINDQVIST’s novel LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. The 2008 Swedish film of the same title directed by TOMAS ALFREDSON is, in my opinion, as good as it gets. Still, I couldn’t help but be curious. Plus, how in the name of hell was I NOT going to support the first HAMMER production in nearly thirty-five years? Seriously, I felt like I got my moolah’s worth as soon as I saw that legendary name projected upon the theater screen…
The good news is that LET ME IN, directed by CLOVERFIELD’s MATT REEVES, is NOT a steaming pile of useless garbage. Maybe it’s my vivid imagination but I detected an earnest affection for the material. I can’t say it casts the same lyrical spell that the earlier interpretation did but it does score gold stars for the respect it pays the core relationship within the story. I have no idea why it chooses to indulge in subpar CGI when it is clearly unnecessary but overall LET ME IN is nothing if not dignified. Most miraculously, it has a purposeful patience and a rare kind of faith that its audience doesn’t require non-stop jump jolts and bombastic musical cues masquerading as scares to remain attentive.
(Some might argue that its poor box office showing proves that faith was squandered but c’mon, why would anyone think remaking a two-year-old film, vampiric or otherwise, would be a sure thing?)
Chances are you are already familiar with LET ME IN’s plot. A lonely bullied boy (this time named Owen rather than Oskar) befriends a vampire (this time named Abby instead of Eli) and both parties gain comfort from their quixotic bond. The boy learns to defend himself, the vampire learns to trust and every one rejoices when a douchbag’s decapitated head sinks to the bottom of a swimming pool.
As you might have guessed I LOVE this story! Both cinematic adaptations shy away from the gender smudging found in the book but slyly slide the same gist forward anyway. Spiritual connection is the point here and whatever junk one may be packing is incidental. It’s the type of symbiotic platonic relationship that is rarely acknowledged or celebrated in our culture. (Possibly because Madison Avenue has yet to discover anything as potent as gender inadequacy fears to sell antiperspirant.) Well, the world may not have much use for bonds like Owen’s and Abby’s but they themselves sure do. Is it romantic? Yes, anytime someone gifts you a Rubik’s cube it’s fucking romantic.
NOTE: Strangely enough the other night I was watching 1995’s LEAVING LAS VEGAS and was struck by how much it resembled LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. Just switch out the blood for booze and you have a sister tale of lost souls building their own hideaway from the world and creating a relationship based on their own and not traditional terms.
As much as LET ME IN doesn’t suck, there’s not much that the 2008 version doesn’t do better than the 2010 one. Some shoes require more than noble intentions to fill them. That said, I did find enjoyment in some of the newer version’s riffs and alterations. REEVES’ choice to amp up Owen’s latch key solitude by CHARLES SHULTZ-ing his parents into non-entities is cynical, savvy and spot on. He also ends up giving vampire Abby’s caretaker/father (the always marvy RICHARD JENKINS) a much more robust and ultimately more frightening spin. There’s a car crash scene he’s involved in that will undoubtedly have many folks double checking their seatbelts far into the future.
Being permanently trapped in the eighties my rad self (by choice mind you!) I also slobbered at the welcome edition of poppy new wave hits by gender blenders BOWIE and BOY GEORGE. The piece de resistance for me though occurs when Abby pushes the play button on a tape player in a makeshift clubhouse and none other than my juju jam FRUER’s DOOT DOOT begins its cricket chirping intro. I know I’ve mentioned it once before but that song gives my goosebumps goosebumps and it’s a perfect choice here for another blast of menthol.
Hate to say it but the biggest problem for me lies in this film’s two leads. Both CHLOE MORTEZ as Abby and KODI-SMIT MCHEE as Owen do incredible, outstanding jobs with their parts but I found it near impossible to let go of LINA LEANDERSON and KARE HEDEBRANT’s interpretations. (Obviously that’s a bias that will not hit you if you are seeing this version first.) Both kids had my support and sympathy but a neon sign in my noggin kept flashing “Imposter!” Like cloned sheep, BLADE RUNNER replicants and that dang robot kid from A.I., I wished them the best but couldn’t quit shake the feeling of some kind of glossy innate falsity. Maybe that’s just my hang-up; MORTEZ can act up a storm all she wants but at the end of the day I’ll always prefer my vampire critters looking more like ALICE COOPER than SCARLETT JOHANSSON. In a similar way the whole of the newer version is just a tad bit too pristine and lacks the natural more earthy rawness of the previous film.
Alright, I admit it, I miss the killer kitties, is that so wrong?
Separating legitimate criticism from knee jerk loyalty gets a bit like untangling Christmas lights here. I guess the important thing is that LET ME IN does a better job than one could reasonably expect, all things considered. Arriving unfashionably late and offering not much more than another excuse not to read something, its fate as an also-ran is pretty much sealed. On the other hand, I think the material deserves to be discovered in any way it can be; if this version is able to reach somebody that the first film or the novel failed to then more power to it. I say experience LET THE RIGHT ONE IN in any way, shape, format or under any title you can. It not only avoids the superficial mire most vampire tales get stuck in but it stands as a gleaming example of the vast depths that the horror genre, in general, is capable of and is rarely given credit for. If you’ve seen the first film, there’s a “been there done that” quality to LET ME IN for sure, but personally I’d much rather retrace these worthwhile footsteps in the snow than follow another newer path that leads absolutely nowhere.