HT Schuyler: Remake Comparison-Let the Right One In

Posted: July 30, 2012 by htschuyler in Retrospectives

Let the Right One In is a Swedish movie based on a book of the same name written by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist. It tells the story of a young boy who is bullied at school and unhappy, and who makes friends with another young girl who turns out to be a vampire. The two eventually fall in love, but her vampirism soon takes over, and their relationship ends up having violent consequences. The film was released in 2008 and was directed by Swedish director Thomas Alfredson. The film was met with universal praise and is quoted as being one of the best vampire movies ever made. In 2010, the film was remade/re-adapted for American audiences, this time directed by American director Matt Reeves. The film received high praise, but not quite up to par with the original. Many people found the remake unnecessary (as most remakes are), but concluded the film was good none the less. The films share the same story, and the fact that they were made only 2 years apart from each other begs the question: How do they compare?

Warning: Reviews contain spoilers.

Let the Right One In (2008)

Released: 24th October 2008

Directed by: Thomas Alfredson.

Starring: Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson and Per Ragnar.

Let the Right One In is a romantic horror film that tells the story of a young, bullied 12 year old named Oskar, who falls in love with his new young neighbour, who turns out to be a vampire. The film is shot in a gritty, realistic manner and doesn’t shy aware from violence, though despite the concept the film is nowhere near as bloody as one may think.

Plot Outline: The movies takes place in 1981 Stockholm, and a young boy named Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is bullied and unhappy. One night, a young girl named Eli (Lina Leandersson) moves in to Oskar’s apartment building with her adult accomplice Håkan. It is quickly revealed that Håkan`s job is to kill people in order to harvest their blood for Eli to consume, as she needs it to survive (y`know, being a vampire and all). At first Oskar and Eli seem hesitant about each other, confronting each other in the apartment’s playground and keeping their conversations abrupt, but soon the two start to connect, and as the film progresses the two spend more and more time together until they are eventually good friends. Meanwhile, Oskar teaches himself Morse code so he can communicate with Eli through his bedroom wall, and stays late after school to do some research. When he leaves the school, he is cornered by the school bully Conny (Patrik Rydmark) and his two friends, only for them to whip Oskar with a stick and cut his cheek. When Eli sees his wounds she tells him that he needs to stand up to the bullies and fight back. In his continuing failed attempts get blood for Eli (his first failures causing Eli to go out herself and brutally kill), Håkan tries to kill a teenager by locking him in the school locker room, only for him to be discovered by the teen’s friends. Before he is captured he pours acid on his face to hide his identity. He is taken to the hospital where Eli visits him and kills him, leaving her alone without a guardian. After killing Håxan, Eli goes to Oskar’s bedroom window, he lets her in and the two cuddle up in bed. Oskar asks Eli if she wants to “go steady” with him, to which she replies that she is “not a girl”. Oskar doesn’t seem to mind.

Later, Oskar is on a school trip to a frozen pond so the kids can do some skating. Oskar walks around the pond and finds a random pole, which he takes with him for protection against the bullies. Meanwhile, two girls find the body of one of Eli’s victims, and everyone runs to see it, leaving Oskar alone with the bullies. They start taunting him and threaten to throw him into the pond, so Oskar smacks Conny in the ear with the pole he found, splitting Conny’s ear in two. Conny collapses, screaming in agony. Oskar gets in trouble for his actions but is pleased with himself none the less, and excitedly tells Eli about him finally standing up for himself. Oskar suggests to Eli that he and her make a blood bond, to which she freaks out and tries to kill a local women named Virginia (Ika Nord), but before she can kill her she is kicked off by her boyfriend Lacke (Peter Carlberg). Later Virgina visits her friend’s apartment looking for Lacke, but is attacked by some cats. She is taken to the hospital, but by then her inevitable transformation into a vampire is complete, and she tells the doctor to open the curtains, and once she is touched by sunlight she is consumed by flames. Oskar soon figures out that Eli is a vampire, and confronts her about it. She explains that she needs blood to live, hence why she has been killing innocent people. Oskar doesn’t seem to mind.

Lacke somehow finds out where Eli lives, and breaks into her apartment and finds her sleeping in the bathroom in the bathtub. Just as he is about to kill her, Oskar appears and warns Eli, who springs to action and kills Lacke. Eli realizes that she is not safe and that she must leave as soon as possible. Later that day, Oskar receives a phone call from one of Conny’s friends, Martin (Mikael Erhardsson), who says that what he did to Conny was awesome, and asked if he was still coming to his after school fitness program. Oskar goes, and while he is swimming in the pool, Conny, his friends and his older brother Jimmy (Rasmus Luthander) create a fire outside to distract the only apparent adult in charge, and as they lock him out of the building, they force everyone else in the pool to get out and leave, and the four confront Oskar. Jimmy explains that if he can hold his breath underwater for 3 minutes he will only cut him then let him go, but if he can’t, he will cut his eye out, because that seems fair for some reason. As Jimmy is holding Oskar’s head underwater Eli appears and brutally kills Jimmy, Conny and one of his friends, leaving the only survivor crying hopeless to himself. The ending scene depicts Oskar sitting on a train with a large crate in front of him, and we hear a quiet tapping as Eli sends him a message via Morse code from inside the crate. The end.

As far as acting goes, it’s good…I think. I don’t speak Swedish, so for all I know the line delivery is excellent, but I really can’t tell. The two leads do a good job, but Lina Leandersson is the clear stand out. The young actress portrays a really troubled, tormented character who is in a constant unhappiness from her inability to connect with humans, and her character is just fascinating to watch, and Leandersson’s performace does the character a great deal of justice. As for Oskar…I don’t really know what to think of him. As far as creating a wimpy little scared child, Kåre Hedebrant does a great job, but I never really liked the character. He seemed too whiny and annoying to really connect with, and his bizarre reactions to situations felt out of place and weird.  The two do a solid job at carrying the film, but it would have been nice to have seen more depth in Oskar’s character, but never the less I’m satisfied with Eli’s character being as deep and complex as she is.

The tone and visuals are what really sell this movie. The movie is shot very realistically and this helps the story telling by making everything feel real and believable. The horror elements are brutal and effective. All violence is done swift and gruesome, but never loses its tone and just adds to the feel of the film. The love story itself is very sweet, touching and I would even say beautiful. You feel for the characters, you see the troubles they go through and hope they make it through, and it is incredibly satisfying when Eli comes to Oskar’s rescue at the end. The flaw with this film that actually really bugs me is the bullying. Bullying is a very real and upsetting issue, but here it just comes off as goofy at times, and way too extreme other times. The main reason for the goofiness comes from the fact that Conny looks like a girly little bitch, and I just really couldn’t take him seriously as a threat. But in contrast to that, when his brother Jimmy is introduced, it’s way to extreme. He says he’s going to cut Oskar’s eye out…just cause he hit his pussy brother in the ear. Really? Last I checked cutting someone’s eye out is a pretty serious crime and would result in some jail time. I know it’s meant to be intense but that just felt like too much.

Oh, and this is not a fault of the movie, but it’s worth mentioning that the English dub of this movie is terrible. Many of the lines are changed, English voice acting is terrible and it just comes off as campy shit, so do yourself a favour and watch it with the subtitles (amusing you don’t speak Swedish).

When all is said and done, I love this movie. It’s a beautifully told none-conventional love/horror story. It deals with the issues of growing up (bullies, pressures from girls, feeling lost and confused), and also handles the whole “vampire” side perfectly without over doing it or making it cliché. It’s dark, gritty and violent, but also touching, charming and even sweet at moments. As far as love stories go, this is one of my all time favourites.

9/10

Let Me In (2010)

Released: 1st October 2010

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chole Grace Moretz, Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas.

Let Me In is a romantic horror film that tells the story of a young, bullied 12 year old named Owen, who falls in love with his new young neighbour, who turns out to be a vampire. The film is shot in a stylish, almost surreal manner and doesn’t shy aware from violence, though despite the concept the film is nowhere near as bloody as one may think.

Plot Outline: There’s a reason that intro was almost identical to the intro of Let the Right One In, because this movie, plot-wise at least, is near identical to its original. After the immense plot outline for Let the Right One In, I’ll save your eyes the effort and sum up this movie’s plot by just saying what is different from the original: The movie now takes place in America, the main characters name is now Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), instead of Oskar, the girls name is Abby (Chole Grace Moretz), instead of Eli, there’s a subplot with a cop played by Elias Koteas who is investigating the killings and disappearances of local residents, and he is the one who discovers Abby while she is sleeping and gets killed by her. Oh and instead of “The Father” (Richard Jenkins) trying to kill a teenager in a locker room, he tries to in the back of a teenager’s car, only for his plan to backfire and lead to an awesome car crash scene. Other than these changes, and the fact that you never seen Owen’s mother (Cara Buono)’s face, the movie more or less hits all the notes that Let the Right One In did, little boy making friends and eventually falling in love with a young vampire, vampire girl’s guardian messes up and she has to kill him, she has to fend for herself which causes the death of a few people, the boy is bullied, stands up for himself only for the bully’s older brother to try and cut his eye out and his vampire lover comes in and save him, then movie ends with them on a train together. The end.

The question that arises with this movie is the obvious one; why was it made? Successful foreign films are remade all the time for North American audiences who refuse to watch movies with subtitles, especially horror films. Apparently the inspiration to remake Let the Right One In was to retell the story for a wider audience, and I understand what the filmmakers meant by that, I just don’t necessarily agree with it. It’s definitely high praise for the original novel, but I really find it a shame that more people can’t just watch the original, yeah it has subtitles but who cares? If more people would just give foreign films a chance then we wouldn’t have so many uninspired remakes and maybe have some actual new and creative horror movies instead of just the same thing that we saw only 2 years before. Now, to completely contradict what I just said; this movie is really, really good. Is it pointless? Yes, but Matt Reeves does such a great job and making it his own with the style and feel of the film that it doesn’t come off as just a sloppy, cheap remake and feels like some effort and care really was put into this. Acting is great throughout, and as worrisome as having a movie carried by children playing the leads is, Kodi Smit-McPhee is fantastic, playing Owen as innocent, nervous and shy, but at the same time nowhere near as wimpy and annoying as the original, and his character feels a lot stronger. Chole Grace Moretz is great as always, making Abby just as tortured and tragic as before, but this time even making her scary and intimidating, when she “vamps out”, it becomes very eerie and creepy. Despite his short amount of screen time, Richard Jenkins is as good as ever, and has some very emotional scenes with Abby. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chole Grace Moretz have great chemistry together, and their friendship and eventual romance comes off as very organic and real. They carry the film very well, and their performances are nothing short of impressive.

The film has a great visual style, due to Matt Reeves great direction. Instead of going for the dark, gritty realistic tone, the film has very stylized, clean look, the movie feels dark most of the time and it just adds to the tension. A major flaw that I have with the remake is the special effects. The original made due with very simple effects, and never went too far with the supernatural elements. When they show Abby acting like a vampire, they make her look like a violent creature and the attack scenes look…well, pretty bad. It’s a shame too, because special effects really weren’t needed. The original attack scenes were very scary and effecting in their simplicity, and when you make Abby look like a creature it just makes her seem like an unsympathetic monster, which I guess is what she is, but at times it comes off as goofy and unnecessary. One thing I really like about the remake is how they handled the bullies. Instead of making them wimpy little bitches they made them look older, tough and actually intimidating. The movie still suffers from having the bullies seem a little too extreme, but overall I actually prefer how they were handled here.

Overall, I really like this film. It’s a stylish, well acted, well made movie that almost lives up to the original. It’s lightly flawed, but overall is a very good romantic horror film with enough effort and care put into for it to stand above other remakes of foreign films that serve only as a cash in on the originals accomplishments. Highly recommended.

8.5/10

Comparison:

Best Acting: Let Me In.

Best Atmosphere and Tone: Let the Right One In.

Best Effects: Let the Right One In.

Best Kills: Let the Right One In.

Best Director: Matt Reeves (Let Me In).

Best Villains: Let Me In.

Most Effective: Let the Right One In.

Best Overall Film: Let the Right One In.

As much as I enjoy the remake, the original is the one that really left a lasting impression on me. It’s the one I think about when I think about great horror romances, and the one that I ultimately recommend. Let Me In is also a really great movie, and one I highly suggest you watch, but if you have to pick between them, watch Let the Right One In. If you feel you really can’t watch a Swedish film with subtitles, you’re missing out on a lot of great films, but the remake will do the job. If you can, I’d recommend watching both.

If anyone has any suggestions or requests for comparisons, let me know in the comments.

Comments
  1. CMrok93 says:

    The Swedish original is obviously better but the Matt Reeves remake isn’t so bad in it’s own right, even if they both seem to have real crappy visuals. Performances from the kids are great though. Nice post HT.

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