Let Me In is a genre-busting triumph. Not just a horror film, but the best American horror film in the last 20 years. Whether you’re a teenager or a film-lover in your 50s, you’ll be knocked out. Rush to it now. You can thank me later. – Stephen King
Stephen King, with his thematic empathy for ‘the bullied’ – ‘the underdog’, ‘the downtrodden’, ‘the misunderstood’ – and his expert use of horror as a tool to explore relationship, was always going to love Let Me In.
The film, based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel Let The Right One In and Tomas Alfredson’s film of the same name is a beautifully constructed interpretation of the story of a bullied 12-year-old boy who develops a friendship with a vampire child. Let Me In stays true to the original film, which has warranted both applause and criticism from film buffs who are polarised in opinion on the matter of the similarity the American version bears to its Swedish predecessor. John Lindqvist, perhaps the best judge in the matter, says:
Let The Right One In is a great Swedish movie. Let Me In is a great American movie. There are notable similarities and the spirit of Tomas Alfredson is present. But Let Me In puts the emotional pressure in different places and stands firmly on its own legs. Like the Swedish movie it made me cry, but not at the same points. Let Me In is a dark and violent love story, a beautiful piece of cinema and a respectful rendering of my novel for which I am grateful. Again.
Let The Right One In is a ‘horror’ film that is pretty much unhorrific. It skips the American glam that cannot help make its way into each and every US produced film. The Swedish film’s severe normality and unsentimental rendition is heightened by director Tomas Alfredson’s lack of familiarity with the vampire and horror genres. The film focuses primarily on the love story between Oskar and Eli. And here’s where the film’s magnificence emerges; in spite of the fact that it lacks the typical American ‘horror glisten’, it is utterly disturbing.
Let The Right One In does not maximise sound effects and music to heighten emotion, it minimises popular culture’s take on vampire appearance and avoids blood-guts-and-gore as well as the gothic undertone traditionally associated with vampire flicks. The film’s sensitively scripted ambiguity and subtlety is what creates a deep sense of consternation in its audience. Viewers are transfixed by the interaction between the two adolescents – the acting is superb and each and every nuance of expression and vocal intonation renders a relationship so chilling and yet so lovely. The parts of the film in which Eli’s vampirism emerge – in her moments of extreme thirst, when she kills Lacke in self-defence, when she enters Oskar’s house uninvited and when she when she mutilates the bullies at the end – are poignant in the moment and yet not sufficiently sensational to detract from the film’s core message. When Eli destroys Oskar’s enemies, the film’s direction does not allow the viewer to dwell on Eli’s clear brutality but rather cajoles the audience into focusing on why Eli killed the bullies – to pay a debt, to save her friend, because she loves Oskar… in one word, loyalty. So, relationship lords over horror – horror is a tool used to tell a story but the story, not the horror, reigns supreme.
And Let Me In is similar in its dark subtlety and haunting subtext. Although director Matt Reeves intended to make “something completely different” and “a new film based on the book, and not [a] remake [of] the Swedish film,” many scenes in Reeves’ film are similar if not identical to the Swedish version of Lindqvist’s novel. The differences between the two films are invested primarily in the difference in emphasis. Reeves’ version is certainly more horror driven – it has the music score and vampire gore – but never to the distraction of the film’s point; the relationship between Owen and Abby.
Let Me In, also set in the 80s, is distinctly American in context – Reagan is president and religiosity rules small town America. The religious theme is not present in Let The Right One In, and other than introducing an interesting dynamic to Owen’s relationship with his mother as well as the ever-present theme of ‘good and evil’, it serves to further establish the film’s American identity.
Reeves’ film is also more obvious in its exploration of elements that were made utterly ambiguous in Alfredson’s version; namely the subject of paedophilia and Eli/Abby’s gender. The novel presents Eli as an androgynous boy, castrated centuries before by a sadistic vampire nobleman. In Let The Right One In, when Oskar asks Eli to be his girlfriend, Eli tries to tell Oskar “I’m not a girl” – a phrase she repeats intermittently throughout the film. The assumption is that Eli is not a girl because she is a vampire. In Let Me In, when Owen asks Abbey the same question, her answer is the same “I’m not a girl” but the script continues… Owen replies “what are you?” and Abbey tells him “I am nothing” – not vampire, not boy, not girl – a more obvious reference to the child’s androgynous nature. Alfredson also deals with Eli’s gender in a brief scene in which Eli changes into a dress and a glimpse of a suggestive scar is offered but there is no explicit elaboration and the shot is so quick that it is easily interpreted as a reference or reminder of the adolescents’ naïve sexual curiosity – something that is, interestingly, not relevant or essential to the film’s emotional context.
Let The Right One In provides limited insight into the relationship between Eli and ‘her father’ – paedophilia is a beast of a theme and could easily distract from the protagonists’ story. Let Me In explains the relationship between Abbey and her ‘father’ by means of a revealing photograph found by Owen – Abby met the man she calls ‘father’ when they were young but he grew old whilst Abby did not… so they were lovers – a mortal falling for an immortal; it’s the age-old, familiar human/vampire tragedy. Both Reeves’ and Alfredson’s films end in the same manner – Oskar/Owen running away with Eli. In the Swedish version, the ending is enveloped in a tone of childish innocence but the American version is far more sinister; because of the backstory between Abby and her companion, the viewer is confronted with a never-ending cycle of sadness – Owen becomes the old man, the man who killed for Abby and sacrificed his life for love.
Both versions of Lindqvist’s eerie tale are sublime tributes to the art of cinema and to the horror genre as well. There is nothing gratuitous in either film, every scene, angle, shot, expression, word and movement conveys a gravitas of meaning. Meaning so real and yet so surreal. Let The Right One In and Let Me In are equally transcendent in their imagining of a skillful piece of literary relevance.