This article was originally written for Subtitled Online September 2011.
The remake vs. original debate is one of the oldest and most frequently occurring in the film industry. Whenever original ideas run dry, Hollywood often turns to the untapped well of talent in world cinema. American remakes are numerous, but very rarely do the original films justice. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and its American remake LET ME IN are extreme rarities in that they are both exceptional films in their own right.
In 2008, Tomas Alfredson wowed the world with his stunning film adaptation of Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist’s vampire novel Let The Right One In. Alfredson’s film of the same name retained much of the traditional vampire lore, but it also put a new spin on the horror genre, and shed new light on pre-teen emotions and relationships.
Two years later, CLOVERFIELD director Matt Reeves and Hammer Film Productions remade the film, transferring events from Sweden to winter New Mexico. While some would argue Let Me In is not a direct remake (as Reeves claims to have based his film on the original book, just as Alfredson did), it does use many similar shots, and has a near-identical narrative structure as Let the Right One In.
Both films concern a lonely and bullied boy meeting and befriending a mysterious girl who moves in next door. Their relationship blossoms, but when it is revealed that she is a vampire, both of their lives (or lack of) are changed forever. Can he accept what she is and pursue their friendship, and will she be able to overcome her animalistic nature?
Is either film really superior? In truth, there is very little that elevates one film above the other. Let the Right One In is an atmospheric, extremely visceral and haunting experience that will stay with you for a very long time. It is relatively slow-paced, but that simply adds to the creepy atmosphere and sense of foreboding. It’s also thematically layered and ambiguous – the viewer is left to interpret some aspects of the film for themselves, and make a judgement about the motivations of the characters. Lina Leandersson’s Eli is also a far creepier vampire than Chloë Grace Moretz’s Abby, not least because of the last minute decision to redub her voice with another actress – the less child-like sounding Elif Ceylan. It gives Eli an unnatural, otherworldly quality ideally suited to the character.
Let Me In has a lot going for it, too, particularly in terms of characterisation. Kodi Smit-McPhee’s Owen is a compelling protagonist, and both Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas add depth to the plot with their characters. In the original film, Per Ragnar’s Håkan was an enigma of a character, his motivations only hinted at, and was therefore almost impossible to relate to. In Let Me In, the brilliant Richard Jenkins brings life and emotion to his version of the character, and he therefore becomes much more sympathetic. He is an extremely troubled soul, obliged to serve and protect Abby not just out of fear, but out of love. In the scene where his attempts to kill a young man in his car are thwarted by the unexpected appearance of the victim’s friend, you almost will the killer not to be found – you are on his side. It’s also a nice touch that you never get a clear look at Owen’s mother; she is always just out of shot or out of focus, so you are alienated from her just as Owen is. The transference of the story from Sweden to the States also allows Reeves to draw comparisons between the film’s events and the heavily moralistic political stance of The Republicans of the 1980s, particularly noteworthy is the use of Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech.
It is an extreme rarity to have both the original film and remake receive such critical acclaim, but that is just what occurred – both films were embraced by audiences and critics alike. This is completely understandable as both are great films. Let Me In does not fall into the trap that many remakes do, that is to say, it doesn’t simplify the original film for English-speaking audiences. The remake may have a little more money behind it than the original, but this added budget isn’t squandered on hiding weaknesses in the rest of the film – every stunt and effect adds something to the story.
Let the Right One In was an exceptional example not only of the horror genre, but of human drama. Rather than being an inferior imitation of this winning combination, Let Me In built on these successes and added a more fluid method of storytelling, rounded characters and an atmospheric soundtrack by Michael Giacchino. Both directors clearly have flair for not only visuals, but for storytelling. Their similarity of vision married extremely well. Alfredson laid some very sturdy foundations with Let the Right One In, so rather than simply rehash the film, Reeves simply had to polish an already brilliant jewel.
Both films stand as high points of the horror genre, and cover a wide variety of complex themes from loneliness to love to morality. With so little to separate the films, it merely depends on your preferred method of filmmaking. If you would rather watch a rawer, more natural film, then see Let the Right One In. If you favour a slightly more slick and character-driven film, then see Let Me In. If you see both, however, then you can really appreciate them for what they really are: far more than an original and a remake, Alfredson’s and Reeves’ films are the progression of the same vision. SSP