Let Me In – A Review

When I finally got to see the film ‘Let The Right One In’ last year, I blogged about it, then read the book then realised I had fallen in love with it a little bit.

So when I heard the inevitable news that this wonderful little Swedish film - from the novel and screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist – was to have a Hollywood remake done… well, I immediately resolved to give it a wide berth.  The original was not one bit broke, why try to fix it?

But it hasn’t been that easy to stay away.

Word has trickled down that the remake is a respectful and faithful one, that the people involved have the highest credentials and that the end product is indeed a film of value in itself.

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That, on its own, might not have been enough to encourage me to watch it - to risk tarnishing the memory of the original - but there was one other factor.  I wanted my son to see it.  I have written for Teens quite a lot myself and I happen to think, despite the 18 cert here in Ireland, that this is a great teen movie.  I knew he wouldn’t mind watching the subtitled original but I also thought that this shining -new remake might be the best way to win him over to what I feel is a masterpiece of bittersweet teen storytelling.

So last night, we all sat down and watched it.  I figured it would be worth a tweet at the end; ‘It was good’ or ‘It was not as good as the original’… something typically profound like that.  As it turned out, I couldn’t do it that ‘concise’ so here I am, trying to tell you what I think.

So here I go.

The remake is far better than the original, in one key respect.  It has a vastly superior screenplay.  Matt Reeves co-wrote this with the original writer, Lindqvist, and it’s a novel adaptation masterclass in my book.  The novel had a wide scope with many characters who interwove, some more successfully than others.  Then ‘Let The Right One In - The Film' came along and pared this excess but, critically, I always felt that it never pared them as much as it should have.  The side stories; the guys in the bar, the policeman on the trail, these only seemed to detract from the fascinating central theme.

The new screenplay pares it all away and brings it down to what really counts, the two central kids.  Everything is made to revolve around them and quite rightly too.

I would love to see the original film made to this tight, focused script but that’ll never happen.

The new film has two high-power teen leads playing their little hearts out.  It also has an apparent agenda to do the very very best it can with the source material.  So it’s a fine film, in itself.

But…

There is just something about the original film that makes it so much better than the remake, the same 'something' that makes it better than the novel too.  It is, I believe, with the exception cited above, an almost-perfect capturing of the story.  I ask myself what it is that makes it so and I came up with the answer that it is some ‘X-Factor’ which is largely indefinable which makes one version resound and another version not.

But that’s just too lazy, isn’t it?  Not good enough at all, Ken.  So I thought and thought and now I reckon there are two particular reasons why the original film wins.  Wait… three… one of them less important than the other two.

The less important one is the setting.  The new film is set in America and, let’s face it, we are familiar with movies set in America, it sets us immediately on firm ground.  The original setting – the Stockholm suburb of Blackeberg – by contrast, is like another world to us.  No matter how much the new film tries to mimic the locations (and, by gosh, it does) we never feel we are in an uncharted land.  That feeling of dislocation, in the original, helps with the other-worldiness of the story, helps to make it seem possible.

The second reason is the casting of the two teen leads.  The remake casting is superb. Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Moretz (who was dynamite in ‘Kick Ass') are both already-seasoned performers who play their parts beautifully.  But the casting of the original, for me, is nothing less than inspired.  Little Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar and Lina Leandersson as Eli simple ‘live’ the parts for me.  I don’t know much about film acting, an expert might say that the American actors are streets-ahead of the original players and I couldn’t disagree.  But, for me, one of the key elements of the original actors’ success was that I didn’t know them, I had never seen them before.  Always, with the remake, there was that niggling, ‘where have I seen them before?’ question.  One never quite escaped the knowledge that they were actors playing a role.  Remarkably, the actors in ‘Let The Right One In’ have never been seen in any other film (as yet).  That is key.  They weren’t just seen to be playing the parts, they ‘were’ the parts.

The final difference – don’t underestimate it ever – the Music.  The original soundtrack for ‘Let The Right One In’ by Johan Söderqvist may be a bit derivative at times but it remains a delicate thing of beauty.  The remake music seemed displaced and forgettable to me.

Finally, I must report that my little plan, to win John over with this new version, has pretty much failed.  My son didn’t really like the film, he found it slow and a bit hard to follow.  He was tired, I’ll let him off.

All in all, the new film is an honourable film and well worth a few hours of your time.

But ultimately, when I ask myself, “if this was the only version of this story that you ever saw, would you love it as you do?” the answer to that would be “No.”

Sorry but no.


6 comments:

William Gallagher said...

I offer that if the American kids' acting were good enough, you'd not have been trying to remember what they'd done before.

Maybe that's me, though. There are no actors who would make me want to see a film, it's always the story so I don't think about them. A friend told me this week that when she's watching TV and an actor first appears, she pauses it to ask her husband where they've seen him or her before. "Oh, yes," I said. "Is your divorce going through?"

Jamie said...

Interesting post - I think I've told you before that I absolutely loved Let the Right One In - it was my favourite film of that year, and so I've not been that keen to see this US remake, having been disappointed by them several times before (yes, I'm looking at you, Vanilla Sky!) But you've probably convinced me to put my prejudices to one side and try the remake.


I'd certainly agree with the location being an important factor though - not being familiar with Scandanavia, I found it gave the impression of an "other-worldness" whereas as you say, we see depictions of the US every day in mainstream films.

I also think that's why some East Asian horror films can be particularly effective for a Western audience - as there's an extra level of unfamiliarity, which in itself can be disorientating.

Jim Murdoch said...

I loved the original film and was worried when there was talk of an American remake. They have botched up so many great films - Solaris is the first that jumps to mind – and considering their own home-produced fare I could just see them Twilight-ising the thing. Thankfully, as you say, they didn’t and if I’d only seen the remake I’d probably be telling all my friends about it. The problem was that –and Watchmen suffered from this too – they were a little too faithful to the source material. Correction, they were a little to faithful to the original film. There is much more to the book and I would have liked to have seen a fresh take on the source material. I can see why that might have been a challenge but it can work: just compare the BBC version of Nineteen Eighty-Four with Peter Cushing as Winston Smith with John Hurt’s performance. I had the opportunity to watch them both one day apart and they are two very different films and yet both absolutely faithful to Orwell’s novel; the screenwriters simple chose to emphasise different things. I had no problem with the castings in Let Me In other than the fact that the vampire was a little too feminine. Hard to believe she was really a boy.

Jena Isle said...

I would love to watch the movie, You have made me curious.

Bob said...

Ken, like you, I have seen both movies and my guess is years from now there will be those still debating which film version is stronger. That's probably the greatest compliment one could pay to Let Me In, because most were sure (myself included) that the remake could never live up the original.

I'll be direct here. I believe that "Let Me In" is a slightly stronger movie than the original.

To start, let me point out what I don't like in the remake, and that's the use of CGI. It was unnecessary and wasn't really implemented all that well considering we're talking about a Hollywood film, yet it's only used in a few scenes, so it's a minor complaint. Where Let Me In excels, as you noted, is on focused script, providing greater emphasis on our two young characters. Reeves highlights this further through some subtle shot-making. For example, he never shows the parents completely, leaving them out of focus, or shot partially, or not in the scene at all, as in the case with Owen's father, who talks to his son by phone. This further heightens our awareness of Owen's isolation. Last, I can't say enough about the difference between the caretakers in the two movies. Richard Jenkins in Let Me In is a substantial improvement over Per Ragnar from the original. This is not a knock on Ragnar, but more an acknowledgment on what Jenkins adds to the role. This is important, because Reeves did change the relationship between the Caretaker and Abby. While in the original there was clearly a dark, pedophilic undertone between the man and, what we would learn was a boy, that is not the case in Let Me In. There is a loving relationship between the two. The Caretaker clearly was an older version of Owen, who long ago and far away fell in love in Abby as a girl and stayed with her his whole life. Abby, in the remake, is never meant to be a boy. That creates a more poignant and circular ending, as we now have a greater understanding of where Owen's life is heading. The final scene in both movies is the same, but understanding that Abby is a girl changes our perception of the relationship. So while I understand reader Murdoch's comment about Chloe Moretz being too feminine, in reality she is perfect.

The young actors in both flicks do a wonderful job. Hedebrant as Oskar and Leandersson as Eli in Let the Right One In were strong, but certainly so are Kodi Smit-McPhee (BTW, he's Australian, not American) as Owen and Chloe Moretz as Abby in Let Me In. I have to add that while Leandersson was great in the role of Eli, the girl/boy/vampire, it is hard for me to be anything less than gushing about Moretz's take on the role of Abby the vampire. She is nothing short of mesmerizing in the role of a girl who is only twelve, but has been twelve for a very long time.

To sum it up, these are both very strong films. I give the original credit for being first and setting the blueprint. I give the overall nod to the remake for recognizing what was done right and then making a fine movie even stronger. Rent them both.

Ken Armstrong said...

William: It's a good point but I don't think any actor in the world can stop me from mulling on stuff like that - you too, I'd nearly bet. :)

Jamie: Check out what Bob has to say in the comment above - he'll get you into it.

Jim: Different films from the same book - that's rather a cool idea. I think I could make a different film from Watership Down - a slightly better one. :)

Jena: Go on, treat yourself. :)

Bob: Your excellent comment brought me back to this post. Thanks. I think logic fails me in this discussion and I find myself going with my heart, which moved more at the bleakness of the original. I was pleased that I caught the nuance in the original that Owen would become the next caretaker - I got that and I found it the single most moving aspect of the story. Then the old photo in the remake just telegraphed that to everyone. I felt my secret had been let out.

Anyway, you've made me want to see it all over again now and that's good. Thanks very much for the contribution.