by Ste Wood
“He was a boy, she was a girl. Can they make it any more obvious?”
In short, yes they could.
In an age where the term ‘Vampire Film’ would likely garner more indifference than interest, Let The Right One In proves that blood-sucking monsters can be just as entertaining today as they were 60 years ago when a plucky would-be icon named Nosferatu made his big screen debut.
I’m going to start this dual review with a confession. It was the American remake of the Swedish romantic horror that pushed me to watch the original film. And were it not for a friend tricking me into watching it, I would’ve blindly assumed that 2010’s Let Me In was just another late-00s vampire film on the very long list of late-00s vampire films.
By the time Let Me In hit theatres, vampires had become a proverbial dead horse, mercilessly beaten past the point of recognition. 2010 had already seen box office domination from the Twilight Saga‘s third entry, Eclipse. There were unwarranted and underwhelming sequels to the 30 Days of Night and Lost Boys franchises, as well as too many original takes on the worn-out concept to mention. Hell, even Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Date Movie, Meet the Spartans) got in on the act, combining the vampire trend with their trademark brand of non-humor in the groan-inducing comedy (sic) Vampires Suck.
So imagine my surprise when instead of enduring an on-the-nose “Vampires have feelings and/or are vicious killers” snooze-fest, I found myself drawn into a twisted world of innocence lost. I bore witness to the deviant manipulation of a cunning monster acting more out of sheer necessity than passion or desire. There are no cheesy visuals, or a voice-over explaining the backstory of the creature in the first 15 minutes. Both films start with a glimpse into the life of a lonely 12 year old boy, paired with enough seemingly disconnected brutality to leave me wondering how it all ties together. Comparatively speaking, I thought the opening to the remake played one of it’s cards a little early by alluding to a mysterious young girl, before the monster first appeared. The masterfully shot original offers little information outside of what is shown on screen, adding to the suspense when downtrodden protagonist Oskar/Owen meets the deceptively deadly Eli/Abby for the first time.
The biggest strength of both films is that they center around a main character that drinks human blood and avoids sunlught like the black plague, but never outright explains the origins or intentions of the vampiric being to the audience. On it’s surface, Let The Right One In is a story of two young lovers determined to be together despite their painfully obvious incompatibility (sound familiar?). But underneath that warm fuzzy blanket of feelings and honesty lies an alternate narrative. A much truer story of deceit, abuse, and manipulation. In providing all of the pieces, and none of the answers, the original film (and to a lesser extent, the remake) creates one of the greatest movie monsters of the time.
Flipping the traditional vampire cliché on it’s head, the LTROI monster does not lurk in the shadows, waiting to pounce on unsuspecting prey (except that one time). Instead, she mirrors Oskar’s weaknesses, and provides the motivation he needs to stand up to the bullies that torment him. She doesn’t kill him with kindness, rather she wins him over by giving him snippets of affection.
By the half-way point, there was little doubt in my mind that this poor, disconnected girl genuinely cared for her new companion, despite insisting they could never be friends. By the end scene, it became clear that she did intend on killing him, but in a much less literal way. And that brings us to why the events in the film are happening in the first place.
In both versions, Eli’s supposed father Håkan/Thomas commits well planned out murders as a means of providing her with the blood she needs to survive. When one of these attacks goes wrong and he faces arrest, Håkan mutilates himself (as a way of avoiding being traced back to her) and subsequently commits suicide. This turn of events leaves Eli in a troubling position. Shown more in the original than the remake, she is able to kill, but cannot hide bodies well enough to get by alone. And with her ‘father’, who was already hinting that he finally sees the truth of his situation, now dead, she needs to move on to the next willing participant. The remake goes a little more out of it’s way to tell us what’s really happening, setting the original in a league above it’s western counterpart.
Not to say that the films are all substance and no flash. Coupled with the intricately layered story and solid performances from the cast, they are also both littered with sporadic, but horrific visual effects. Excluding a single use of terrible CGI in both versions (but different scenes), the films make excellent use of a less-is-more attitude towards blood and gore. The minimalist approach to violence and aggression adds to the feel that this is not a horror story, more that the story itself is set against a gruesome backdrop. There are even times when the grisly visuals feel more upsetting than scary, particularly when Eli first enters Oskar’s house.
Admittedly, if you delve a little deeper into the time line of the alternative narrative of the plot, there are some important questions to be raised about Håkan’s motivation for staying with Eli/Abby for so many years, given her appearance as a 12 year old girl. In the book the original screen play is based on (also written by Thomas Alfredson), the character is a paedophile, in love with Eli, driven to killing himself out of jealousy when she begins to show feelings for Oskar. Thankfully, this aspect of the story was left out of both films, with the writer stating that he felt it would have distracted too much from the main story arc.
While there is definitely more to the story than is told in the approximate 110 minute run time, Let The Right One In and Let Me In do more with the screen time than most other films in the same genre. Whether you took it all at face value, and accepted that the characters escaped the horrific realities of their current lives, or looked a little deeper and saw Eli/Abby for the cold-hearted monster she really is, it goes without saying that both the original and the remake certainly deserve more credit than they received for giving vampires a little bit of their bite back.
Have you managed to catch the original or remake of this modern horror classic? What did you think? Thanks for reading and comment below!
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