Original vs Remake: Let The Right One In (2008) vs. Let Me In (2010)

Credit to: 

Tomas Alfredson

Kare Hedebrant - Oskar
Lina Leandersson - Eli
Per Ragnar - Hakan
Henrik Dahl - Erik
Karin Bergquist - Yvonne
Peter Carlberg - Lacke
Mikael Rahm - Jocke
Ika Nord - Virginia

Genre - Horror/Drama/Romance/Vampires

Running Time - 114 Minutes

Matt Reeves

Kodi Smit-McPhee - Owen
Chloe Grace Moretz - Abby
Richard Jenkins - Thomas
Cara Buono - Owen’s Mother
Elias Koteas - Detective

Genre - Horror/Drama/Romance/Vampires

Running Time - 116 Minutes

PLOT (from IMDB)
Oskar/Owen (Kare Hedebrant/Kodi Smit-McPhee), a bullied 12-year old, dreams of revenge. He falls in love with Eli/Abby (Lina Leandersson/Chloe Grace Moretz), a peculiar girl. She can't stand the sun or food and to come into a room she needs to be invited. Eli/Abby gives Oskar/Owen the strength to hit back but when he realizes that Eli/Abby needs to drink other people's blood to live he's faced with a choice. How much can love forgive?

More of a romantic coming-of-age drama than a horrific vampire film, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is still one of the finest entries in cinema vampire lore and one of the best horror films of the 2000s. Funny how big of a difference LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is to another 2008 vampire film, TWILIGHT, even though they share a lot of similarities on the surface. Both were adapted by novels. Both have young people, one human and one a vampire, falling in love as they try to understand each other and themselves. Both vampire films are about the soap opera and character element rather than the horrors of being a vampire. Yet their presentations are total opposite, as TWILIGHT caters to pre-teens who need fan fiction ideas while LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is more adult-oriented and deserved more attention than TWILIGHT ever did.

What really makes LET THE RIGHT ONE IN work are the young protagonists. Both Oskar and Eli are outcasts for different reasons. Oskar, coming from a broken home, is constantly bullied in school and not given much love or affection at home. The lack of positive emotional stability makes Oskar want to lash out on his enemies violently, almost being nurtured into a potential sociopath. Eli also has violent tendencies, but only because she’s a vampire stuck in a 12-year-old body who needs blood to survive. Both feeling alone and misunderstood, the two slowly forge a connection that begins as friendship and turns into something more. Eli and Oskar are Ying and Yang - Oskar providing Eli a sense of humanity a vampire can’t really feel, while Eli feeds into the bloodlust and violent tendencies that Oskar is willing to experience, pushing him to hit and fight harder when bullies try and humiliate him. It’s also great that they don’t judge each other. Oskar never blinks when Eli reveals she’s a vampire and that she may not even be a girl. Oskar has unconditional love for Eli and Eli is truly loyal to Oskar, which is something rare when it comes to child characters in horror films. Watching them interact and bond to the point where they’re willing to risk their lives for each other makes Oskar’s and Eli’s relationship believable due to strong screenwriting - which isn’t surprising since the novel’s author, John Ajvide Lindqvist, also adapted the screenplay.

That’s not to say that vampirism doesn’t come into play. Eli portrays the typical traits of one, meaning she wants blood, sleeps during the day, and can’t enter a room without an invitation first. And Eli’s thirst leads to a vengeance subplot involving Lacke, a man who loses his best friend and girlfriend due to Eli’s action. It strengthens the bond between the two young characters while giving them a major threat that could separate them. There’s also Oskar’s bullies, who torture him any chance they get and become the focus of Oskar’s revenge. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN doesn’t really focus on these characters a whole lot, but they’re pivotal to the film’s story and help us sympathize with the protagonists, even if they may not be morally correct with their actions.

The direction by Tomas Alfredson is strong, visually pleasing and confident. Instead of filming LET THE RIGHT ONE IN as a horror film, Alfredson treats the movie with tenderness and romanticism, wanting the audience to focus on the characters and their interactions rather than the violence and bloodshed. Along with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, Alfredson create a lot of atmosphere within the film’s Scandinavian landscape. Snowy and set in Winter, the setting feels cold, which contrasts to the warmth of Eli’s and Oskar’s relationship. The film flows extremely well, never making the drama feel boring or plodding, while the horror moments are presented as jarring but in a good way. The vampire stuff is never the real focus and Alfredson clearly lets us know that right from the start. The film is a great slow build as the main relationship blossoms, giving the film an essence not many modern horror films can achieve. It’s superb work from a director who prefers subtlety over shock value, which I appreciate a great deal.

The acting is pretty great here, especially by the two young leads who carry LET THE RIGHT ONE IN on their shoulders from beginning to end. Kare Hedebrant is good as Oskar, the bullied young man who just wants to be understood and loved. His blonde hair and almost albino looks makes you believe he’s already a vampire. But he’s just an innocent boy trying to find his place in a dark life. Even better is Lina Leandersson as Eli, bringing both coldness and darkness as a vampire, while showing a level of vulnerability, intelligence and strength as she tries to be more human for Oskar. The two actors share a very likable chemistry that helps hold up the film after all these years. Without them, we wouldn’t still be talking about LET THE RIGHT ONE IN today.

And since I’m already discussing LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, I might as well give thoughts on its 2010 American remake, LET ME IN. For a film that didn’t need a remake to begin with, LET ME IN manages to surprise as it’s actually pretty damn good. While it doesn’t reinvent the film it’s based on, it does enough small changes to the story and visual style to make it stand on its own, never once disrespecting the original film in any way.

The story is very much the same as LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, with some scenes actually quoting dialogue word for word from the original. The small changes are interesting though, even though I’m not sure if it makes the film any better or worse than its predecessor. The ambiguity of Eli’s, or Abby’s in this case, gender identity is made more clear in this remake, as well as her relationship with the old man she lives with. Abby and Owen’s relationship is a bit more judgmental here, especially when he realizes he’s friends with a vampire. It’s not that bad, since it’s realistic that a child would be frightened by something he doesn’t understand. The sunlight death is done much differently in this version. And the vengeance angle is replaced with a standard police investigation that doesn’t end well for the detective. The film also takes place in 80s America instead of 80s Stockholm, helped by the use of popular 80s music, classic arcades, and television footage of then-President Ronald Reagan questioning good and evil. The Reagan stuff doesn’t really add anything besides Owen questioning if there is really evil in the world, which doesn’t go anywhere since the film ends the same way as the original. I think people who haven’t seen the original would enjoy the story regardless, but the original’s subtlety wins out for me.

Matt Reeves, who previously directed 2008’s CLOVERFIELD and will helm 2021’s THE BATMAN, does a commendable job understand what made LET THE RIGHT ONE IN work and capturing its tone and atmosphere almost perfectly. Reeves, however, doesn’t direct the film shot-by-shot like Gus Van Sant did with PSYCHO in 1998. He adds his own touches to the familiar scenes, using different perspectives or camera angles to present the story for a different audience. It’s still a slow moving affair and Reeves lets scenes play out without having to rush things or “Hollywood” them out for the mainstream. It feels just as bleak and cold in LET ME IN than it does in the original, and I gotta respect Reeves for respecting the original so much. My only gripe would be the CGI during Abby’s feeding scenes, which look like a cartoon that doesn’t fit in at all with the scene they’re a part of. But other than that, great visuals.

The acting is also pretty solid. Chloe Grace Moretz is a very good actor and does well as Abby, playing the role with sadness and loneliness unlike Lina Leandersson’s haunting portrayal. I do think Leandersson plays the role better, as she’s able to convey more through facial expressions and body language than Moretz does in the role. However, I feel that Kare Hedebrant is overshadowed by Kodi Smit-McPhee, who plays the role of Owen wonderfully and sympathetically. Smit-McPhee understands the role so well, you honestly believe he’s been through this in real life, conveying anger, loneliness, confusion, and fear so perfectly. He also shares nice chemistry with Moretz, even though I feel the original actors had more of a connection personally. But Smit-McPhee is the star of this film because he makes us care for him a great deal. Supporting actors Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas are also very solid in their roles, adding a lot of nuance and tension to the film’s main story. Really solid cast here who took the material super seriously.

While TWILIGHT tried to take down vampire storytelling one sparkle at a time, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN proved within the same year that vampire films can still be well told tales and must see movies. Bleakly atmospheric with solid child characters and a slow pace that lets the story simmer to a romantic ending, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN proves that serious vampire stories can still resonate in a modern society. In fact, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN is one of the best horror films of the last twenty years in my opinion. But if you don’t like foreign films or subtitles for any reason, the 2010 American remake LET ME IN is still a very well made film that respects the original while adding a few small twists to cater to an American audience. Same bleak atmosphere, solid acting especially by the child actors and still the same simmer that makes LET ME IN a remake worth checking out whether you’ve seen the original or not. Both solid interpretations of the same novel, but my vote goes to the original. But LET ME IN proves that not all horror remakes suck - pun intended.

4 Howls Outta 4

3.5 Howls Outta 4

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