As one of the more interesting vampire movies in the recent years I wanted to talk about the Swedish film Let the Right One in, and it’s Americanized remake Let Me In. I watched both movies simultaneously tonight, writing this review as I watched.
This falls into a recent trend of films to be made in another country and then be remade within the States. The Japanese have taken the brunt of this foreign film exploitation; and lets be honest folks that’s what it is, the Norwegians are now experiencing it as well (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Troll Hunter). We, as in Hollywood, are letting other countries create new ideas, new takes on old ideas and rather than try to distribute THAT film here, the producers hire a team of monkeys, er writers and directors to remake and re-imagine the film within a few years of its release. A vast majority of the ghost stories we’ve had, starting with the Ring, were originally Japanese. Why not actually let us watch that one in a theatre? Sadly the answer my friends is us. The audience doesn’t want subtitles, they want faces they recognize even if the foreign actors are remarkable, I am sure there are other reasons that are just as BS.
So how do these two films compare? American vs Swedish? Interestingly. I warn you now to avoid spoilers (contrary to my norm) skip to the TL;DR.
The story focuses on a young boy (Oskar/Owen) living in a run down apartment complex, who sees a girl (Eli/Abby) his age moving in . He is bullied at school, being raised by his mother alone. He spends his time not in school alone outside in the snow in the complex courtyard playing with a rubix cube or stabbing trees imagining the tree is a bully. The boy and girl quickly become friends and he uncovers her secret, that she is a vampire. As their relationship grows, the girls relationship with her caretaker begins to wane. Things at school escalate with the bullies and the boy, while things further deteriorate around the girl and the body count rises.
The story is the same, though the names change. The US version is nearly a shot for shot remake of the Swedish. There are, however, some interesting choices between the two.
As expected, or should be, the Swedish version plays out more dramatically beat for beat. The american one starts out far more dramatically with an ambulance racing through the highlands of New Mexico dealing with an acid burn victim, while the Swedish version begin focused on Oskar alone and establishing his awkwardness. I suppose Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), director and writer – see what I mean from yesterday? – felt that a more romantic/dramatic start would disengage his audience and he needed to create an artificial bit of excitement to start. The US version also does not stay 100% practical and that is a massive failing of the film, where the CGI attack by Abby is no where near as intense or visceral as Eli’s practical one. It’s proof once again that CG is not better than a good make up or skill in shooting.
Lets talk about the actors and characters a bit, but I want to this in reverse order starting with the bit parts.
The Bullies. I hate Bullies, I laugh when they are mutilated, eviscerated and otherwise punished brutally in film. It brings me no end of joy. So while the nature of the bullies in the US version are more deserving of their fate, they are also two dimensional entities that you can have absolutely no sympathy for. The Swedish version, while they are still inhuman in their own right and have earned their Karma and pay it, have some depth. They pause, they have moments where the three of them are not all “complete” villains.
The Caretaker. Still a better love story than twilight. No seriously, it’s a love story between him and his vampire. In all the years and vampire films I’ve watched I have never seen one handle this so interestingly and creatively. While the man is clearly in his late forties in both films, if not mid fifties, there he is the caretaker to a twelve year old. To an outsider he would be the parent, but to a careful observer and viewer you see that they are more than that. He hunts for her nightly, killing people and bringing their blood for her to feed on. He is getting old however and making mistakes. In some of his final moments you get a true grasp of his relationship with the girl. Tenders touches from her, eyes closed and a sense of peace from him. His final acts, after a final failure is sacrifice. His love for her is that complete that he would not only pour acid on his face, but
then to let her feed from him because she had been unable to. It almost makes my black heart melt.
Lets talk about the boy. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Hedebrants Oskar comes across more damaged. There’s a pleasure in his eyes when he finally stands up to the bullies. An eagerness as he stabs the trees mimicking the taunts of the bullies. There’s also a certain eagerness to which he embraces Eli, even as he tries to deny their relationship. The broken nature even shows as he torments her briefly to find out what happens if she isn’t invited in, though that scene is tempered by his care for her. Smit-McPhee comes across more of a victim throughout, eternally vulnerable and even as he stands up to the bullies there’s no real strength there and no hidden sadism. Though for cinematic reasons he puts Abby through the same lack of invite, there is no sense that it was even for a moment malicious. In fact he looks as if he’s about to jack rabbit the entire time until the very last minute. Even during a moment where the theoretical worm turns, Hedebrant plays the stronger boy willing to draw a blade to defend and simply turn his back on a murder. Smit-McPhee plays the same scene weaker, pleading and even trembling. Both boys play the vulnerable, weak love interest to their girl rather well and the inexorable slide into her grasp is entertaining to watch; which makes their final decision complete and logical from the way the story has been executed.
On to the girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson) and Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz – yes my favourite young actress). For the purposes of the story and relationship (that gets it’s own section this time), Chloë acts as well as ever but the nature of her looks weaken one of the plot points in the relationship. Lina’s performance is actually a bit darker due to her androgynous features. She looks twelve and neither pure girl nor pure boy and is a bit more haunting as she carries out several of the kills. Both girls deliver a remarkable performance as a vampire, but Lina is given the option to use her body language and a minimal amount of effects to achieve monsterousness, while Chloë is not afforded the same. Though she, much like in Carrie, has the body language down and performs fully has some of her performance masked by too much blood and too much CG overlay on her make up.
The romance needs to be talked about here as much as anything. It was controversial for several reasons when the original Swedish version came out. I was worried when I saw the US release if they would do the same. There’s an entire series of dialogue half way through the film, where she joins the boy in his bed in the middle of the night. She had already asked him if he would like her if she was not a girl; now he asks her to go steady to an interesting reply.
“I’m not a girl.”
“Does that bother you?”
Now as she is prepubescent there’s debate as to what she means. Is it that she isn’t actually a girl, is it that she is but doesn’t consider herself one as she never even reached her teens, or the fact that she is a vampire makes her gender-less in her own mind? The conversation alone and it’s implications, much less his response, make it an interesting film. The options are also questions that are never answered which is a nice change of pace. It’s also fascinating to wonder as you look at the movie and understand the Caretaker that while the boy cares for her; you must ask yourself if she cares for him. Is she manipulating him to get her needs or are her emotions in such flux because of being eternally twelve? Again questions never answered and best left to interpretation. Even through the end of the film where the Caretaker cycle begins anew you just don’t know. Ultimately the viewer must decide, is it love or is it a monster – perhaps both.
While your tastes may vary and I do like both films, the Swedish version is superior in many elements. It shows a better finesse and love for the story than the US version. The US version is sufficient and still good, but they missed the memo on show don’t tell – especially in the final pool sequence. The children all act well, with Chloë 12 at the time of filming.
I can comfortably recommend both and think vampire fans will enjoy (if you haven’t already seen).
No hints for tomorrow, since its a film I haven’t seen – it will be the Conjuring.