Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist & its movie adaptations
Although a rather baggy novel at over 500 pages, Let the Right One In, translated by Ebba Segerberg, blew me away when I read it back in 2009. My full review from back then is here.
At the novel’s heart is the relationship between a lonely and bullied twelve-year-old boy, Oskar, and Eli, a vampire frozen forever in the body of a twelve-year-old girl. Their friendship is, naturally, surrounded by horror as Håkan, Eli’s drudge, prospects for murderable people to provide the blood she needs to survive.
I didn’t have the time to re-read the novel for this week, but did manage to make time to re-watch the original Swedish movie, and then the US version Let Me In, so what follows is a comparison between the three.
Let the Right One In (Swedish with subtitles) was made in 2008, directed by Tomas Alfredson, whose next film would be Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The two young stars are Kåre Hedebrant as Oskar, notable for his platinum blond hair, and Lina Leandersson as Eli with dark hair and big expressive eyes. Lindqvist adapted his own novel for the screenplay, so the film stays fairly close to the book, while compressing the plot and omitting the back stories of Eli and her drudge Håkan, which allows for several interpretations of Eli’s motives.
Set in the early 1980s in a concrete Stockholm suburb, Alfredsson’s film makes good use of harsh fluorescent lighting throughout, contrasting Oskar’s world, in which he wishes he wasn’t bullied by his schoolmates at the pool and gym, with the shadow of Eli’s, who can only come out at night. When you bear in mind that 2008 also gave us the start of the vampire franchise that is the Twilight saga, Let the Right One In was like a breath of fresh air in comparison and also truer to the myths of vampire lore (although an non-religious take). It is also very bloody indeed so, like the book, not for the faint-hearted.
I was prepared to be disappointed with the 2010 Hollywood remake, but ended up pleasantly surprised in how close Let Me In stayed to the Swedish original and how much I enjoyed it. There were many scenes that appeared in both films, from the drudge being surprised while stringing up a body to drain the blood into a container, to the one where the boy shows the girl vampire his Rubik’s cube, and she takes it away to finish doing.
The setting is still the early 1980s, but we’re in Los Alamos, Texas apparently. Instead of Oskar and Eli, we have Owen and Abby, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Grace Moretz, reversing the hair colours. Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) is the drudge, the ‘Father’. Let Me In has more shadows, lower lighting than LTROI, it ups the gore a bit, and adds a policeman, which replaces some of the conversations between the other often drunk residents of the estate. We also see more of Owen around town, visiting his father etc, which just highlights his loneliness at home with his religious mother even more. Kodi Smit-McPhee, who is still as skinny as a rake (see his superb performance in recent film The Power of the Dog) cuts a different picture when being bullied to Oskar. Moretz is rather sweeter, but also more scary as director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) brings us in closer to the gore.
Let Me In also has a great 1980s soundtrack, with Culture Club, Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ and ‘Turning Japanese’ by the Vapors amongst other tracks used. Funnily enough, apparently Lindqvist got the title for his novel from Morrissey’s song ‘Let the Right One Slip In’ which fits the classic vampire’s need to be asked in.
So which one should you watch?
Basically – either! I think the Swedish original just has the edge if you’re up for subtitles. It’s the lighting that did it for me, but I really liked Kodi Smit-McPhee in the remake. Both films respect vampire lore – there’s no sparkle! Interestingly Let Me In is produced by Hammer, home of Christopher Lee’s classic Dracula movies. If you feel the need for back story – of course you could read the novel…
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