The 2008 Swedish horror-romance Let The Right One In, based on the book of the same name, was a monster critical success, winning over fans for its moody atmosphere, great acting and a perfect mix of touching romance with the known vampire mythology.
It was irritating but nonetheless unsurprising, then, that Hollywood would dig its claws into such a success and make its own version, before the original had even hit U.S. theaters.
And so we have Let Me In from writer/director Matt Reeves (of Cloverfield fame). So does it live up to the original Swedish film or is it just another one of those inferior Hollywood remakes that simply exists because (sadly) most English-speaking audiences don’t want to watch subtitled movies?
I’m very pleased to say that Let Me In is one of the best remakes ever made, a stellar effort from all involved that simultaneously pays deep respect to the original film and novel while still carving out a unique identity for itself.
Fans of Let the Right One In will notice differences with Let Me In (some big, some small) but for the most part the plot is the same: A young teenage movie (this time called Owen instead of Oskar) is getting horribly bullied at school for seemingly no reason. He is too scared to stand up to them and even more scared to tell anyone about it.
Owen exacts his “revenge” on the bullies in secret by regularly taking it out on a tree with a penknife. One night while carrying this out he meets a young girl who just moved in next door to him (this time called Abby instead of Eli). The two of them slowly become friends but before long Owen stars to notice that something isn’t quite right with Abby including the fact that she doesn’t appear to ever get cold and that she never goes out during the day. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Abby is (SPOILER) a vampire.
One of the key aspects that made Let the Right One In so effective was the touching relationship between the two leads. Yes, the girl is a vampire and there’s certainly a lot of the familiar elements we expect to see from a film dealing with the in-vogue mythology. But really the story is about the blossoming relationship between a boy and a girl that just happens to involve vampirism. It would have been so easy for Hollywood to focus more on the vampire aspect of the story (given how popular vampires are right now), leaving the relationship in the background but luckily Let Me In has its heart and head in the right place.
Luckily Let Me In has two fantastic performances from young leads Kofi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloë Moretz (Kick-Ass). You really believe the touching, if awkward, relationship that develops between the two; most of the time that takes the form of the two meeting and chatting in the courtyard of their apartment building. Small moments like Owen teaching Abby how to use a Rubik’s cube or offering her some of his beloved sweets are perfectly judged – sentimental, perhaps, but not overly so.
One of the things that is played up a lot more in Let Me In than it was in the original is the character of Abby’s “father.” He was certainly an integral part in the original, playing a crucial role when it comes to Abby’s need for blood to survive, but here he plays much more of a central role. He is played wonderfully by Richard Jenkins, a brilliant character actor who is finally coming a bit more to the forefront in Hollywood.
Events are transferred from Sweden to New Mexico for Let Me In although the snowy climate is still very much the same. This change of setting but maintaining of weather conditions helps the film to feel familiar and different at the same time. It also adds greatly to the creepy atmosphere, as does the haunting score by the great Michael Giacchino (of Lost fame).
Like the original, but at time even more so, Let Me In is quite graphic with how it depicts the scenes of Abby getting her blood-fix or the iconic scene of (SPOILER) the father pouring acid on his face to conceal his identity (to name but a couple). It’s definitely not for the faint of heart but at the same it doesn’t enter Hostel territory where it becomes gross just for the sake it – here the graphic nature has a point.
Although it’s probably a bit unfair to compare Let Me In to its Swedish counterpart it can’t really be helped in this case. The original is so well regarded that anyone trying to make a new version was always going to have a bit of an uphill struggle convincing the sceptics.
However, quality speaks above all else and Let Me In is arguably better than the original in a lot of ways, taking the necessary element that made it so great and building on them (or in some cases even changing them).All in all Let Me In is an emotional, creepy, touching and often downright scary film that is a prime example of how a remake should be done.