Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Let The Right One In (and maybe the other one too)

The films:
Let The Right One In (2008), a Swedish production based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqivst and directed by Tomas Alfredson, which was then remade stateside as Let Me In (2010), helmed by Matt Reeves.

The under-the-radar-factor:
The original Swedish film wowed both audiences and critics alike but its release by Magnet/Magnolia Pictures couldn't crack the subtitle-averse crowd in North America. Speculation had already emerged that a more Hollywood-ish style remake of the vampire movie was inevitable. With a little over $12 million at the U.S. box office, the American production raked in more cash domestically than its predecessor but was hardly a huge hit.

The reviews:

While differing in some presentation aspects, as well as a degree of overall tone, the two films follow the same basic plot:

Vampire, Swedish Style
Vampire, American Style
A person everyone assumes by appearance to be a youngish girl has moved into an apartment complex with an older chap who seems to be her guardian...of sorts. The lass only emerges from her new home at night and seems oblivious to the cold wintry conditions outside (in a Stockholm suburb or Los Alamos, depending on version).

Already residing in the commons is a 12 year old boy in a single parent household, without friends, and bullied at school. At first the girl, revealing she is "more or less twelve" as well, states the two of them can never be friends but they begin spending most evening hours together anyway. The youths even devise a morse code based system to communicate between the wall of their adjoining apartments. Meanwhile, her guardian begins to prowl the area looking for people to kill, draining their blood into containers to take home for the younger co-tenant. Errors occur and the girl decides to go out on her own, ambushing an unsuspecting victim, leaving "daddy" to clean up the trail. At the same time the boy is under increasingly dangerous physical duress from his school tormentors. The girl finds herself alone as her guardian dies after having bungled another murder attempt. With her encouraging the neighbor to fight back against the bullies and his part in helping her lead a more "normal" existence (while a suspicious individual closes in on her whereabouts), the two of them grow from helping each other out to genuinely falling in love. This is in spite of his discovery of her need of human blood and the fact that she has been a "12 year old" for a long, long time. The girl decides she must leave just as her new love is about to be confronted by his tormentors in a most serious and physically dangerous way.

Here is the trailer for Let the Right One In...

And for the American version...

Many have noted that there was no real need to do a remake of the outstanding and unique Let the Right One In (outside of North American subtitle-phobia) and I am in complete agreement on that. The original Swedish version is a near masterpiece and, except as noted below, provides a more haunting aura through it's more subtle approaches to make it the superior of the two films. Not that Let Me In bites (pardon the pun)...far from it, although its assertiveness (and a few logic loopholes) results in some absurd moments landing with a heavier thud. There are some who will cite a lack of originality in some of the Yankee compositions - many of the shots in Let Me In seem lifted right out of the first film to a surprisingly high degree. The original is also better in striking the balance between terrifying and tender, all without resorting to anything close to Twilight blah.

Still, Reeves remake does offer two areas of improvement over it's predecessor. If one wants to rack up tension for what's at stake for our vampire in term of being discovered and apprehended, try using a determined police officer closing in (the Let Me In character played by Elias Koteas) rather than the loutish, drunken neighbor in the Swedish edition. Also, the American version has the good fortune of having the wonderful Richard Jenkins portraying the so-called guardian of the girl - he delivers a performance that has more tension and sympathy to it than is displayed by his colder and more clinical overseas counterpart.

Both versions are certainly worth seeing because of the excellent performances by each set of young actors. Chole Grace Moretz as Abby and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen were as astute casting decisions on this side of the Atlantic as the placing of Linda Leandersson and Kare Hedebrant in the roles of Eli and Oskar turned out to be in Sweden. All four actors are excellent in drawing in the viewer to their pre-adolescent worlds of alienation, fear, and yearning for understanding and acceptance.

Let the Right One In is THE film to show to anyone who thinks they would hate watching a vampire film, with Let Me In as an acceptable backup (but gimme a break, folks...learn to accept kimchi, planting trees, and reading subtitles in this world!). Both films move beyond the conventions, expectations, and limitations that have set into that genre. Many critics - but not enough audience eyeballs - have noted the fresh blood (pardon that pun too) these films deliver - two movies set in the dark night that will burn bright in your mind for a long time afterwards.

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