Review: Let Me In

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

let_me_in[This review contains major spoilers, and compares the Swedish and American versions]

It’s hard to say what makes a movie great. What is the divine kernel of inspiration that elevates a flick to cult status? Sure, good performances and an interesting storyline count, but there seems to be some hidden magic trapped in the frames. How else to explain that the scene-by-scene remake of Psycho failed so miserably?

Let Me In, the American take on the Swedish film Let The Right One In, contains the same skeleton as the original and yet, cannot help but be an inferior cousin. I read an article that said Let Me In was not intended as a remake of the first movie, but as the credits and the movie itself testify, the new version is based on the screenplay developed by John Ajvide Lindqvist. The director of Let Me In never goes back to the source material, instead mostly pruning the Swedish script.

One of the key differences, and probably what underwhelms the remake, is the change of setting. Let The Right One In provides a landscape that is bleak and utterly depressing. The snow, the apartment building and the people in those buildings testify to a life of lost hopes. When the action is moved to New Mexico, even though the snow is still there, much of the cold loneliness is removed. Simply put, Los Alamos seems much more pleasant than Blackeberg.

The second key difference is the shortened length of Let Me In. We never get to physically see the protagonist’s dad. The cast of neighbors in Let Me In is virtually unknown, while in Let The Right One In, we get a subplot with several of them. The pace, thus, is faster and more simplified. Which is not necessarily for the better. The slow drift of Let The Right One In is what helped shape it.

Furthermore, the American remake clarifies certain bits that did not need to be clarified. We get to see a picture of the vampire girl and her “protector” in his youth, indicating they have been together for decades (the original lets you guess the identity of Eli’s companion; he could be a relative, an adopted father, or a lover) and basically setting in stone the future of the protagonist (We don’t know, in Let the Right One In, what might happen to this duo. We can pretty much figure it out in Let Me In).

Most annoying, we open with the protagonist now turned into a Peeping Tom. This is a much-creepier boy. He spies, via telescope, his beautiful neighbor having sex (this is Virginia, who is neither beautiful nor young in the original). He stares at two teenagers embracing. They project Romeo and Juliet in his classroom and later on, the boy has a copy of Romeo and Juliet in his possession. It’s as though the American remake wants to hammer home the romantic elements of the movie, which are not present in the Swedish flick. The Swedish movie seems to capture a perfect moment of innocence, between childhood and adolescence. The American version does not seem capable of imagine a boy’s love without the element of sexuality.

Thus, when we get to the moment when the protagonist spies on his companion in the nude, it’s not a moment of shocking discovery (In Let The Right One In Oskar sees the scar left from Eli’s castration, a glimpse that allows us to see that Eli is most definitely not a girl), but just another case of the Peeping Tom. The American film, demurely, does not offer us a glimpse of the naked vampire. Thus, the confused sexuality of Eli disappears. Abby, in the remake, is most definitely female.

The loss of Virginia and her sideplot further dilutes the proceedings. This was one of the great moments of the original: Virginia decides she does not want to live as a vampire and burns under the sunlight. In the remake, a nurse opens the curtains by accident.

This means that by the end of the flick, it is not Lacke, Virginia’s lover seeking retribution, who finds Eli in the bathtub. Instead, an innocent police inspector stumbles upon her.

There is also the lamentable use of some very unconvincing CGI as Abby moves up a building or a tree.

Does this mean Let Me In completely sucks, pardon the pun? It features a couple of very good sequences in a car, the performers are up to the role and the 80s look is nice. It’s also a suitable movie for those who have not seen, or do not care to see, a subtitled flick. Aside from that, the original is far superior.

This does not mean remakes or new adaptations are inherently bad. Take The Thing as directed by John Carpenter, an excellent take on “Who Goes There?” And there’s been more than one version of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. However, this is not the equivalent of seeing Macbeth as put on by two different theatre companies. Had the director gone back to the source material and tried to give a different spin on the novel, there might have been something to talk about here. But it is evident the director went back to the Swedish movie. The result is not very exciting for those of us who saw Let The Right One In first (and I must admit, I liked the Swedish movie more than the novel, so it was even more painful for me).

Let Me In has craft. It just doesn’t have the heart of Let The Right One In. Writer John Ajvide Lindqvist recently said, “Let the Right One In is a great Swedish movie. Let Me In is a great American movie.” Perhaps it comes down to that. Or perhaps, whatever that special kernel is, it’s hard to isolate.

To purchase the original novel, Let The Right One In, go here. The Swedish adaptation is also available through Amazon.com