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Was Let Me In, the Right One?

I had all of these ideas on how I would say things like: “Let Me In’, what’s missing? ‘the right one”, but I can’t say that and you’ll see why.

This week’s offering is the American remake of the Swedish horror film Let the Right One In. Matt Reeves, director of Cloverfield headed up this project. I can only venture to guess that they changed the title because they were convinced that Americans wouldn’t understand the concept of “the right one”. It is difficult to talk about this film without referring to the original, but I will do my best, leaving comparisons for the one or two key points where it is absolutely necessary.

Let Me In ushers in the return of the famous, amongst the horror community anyway, Hammer Studios. Hammer is best known for their boundary pushing films of the 50s, 60s and 70s such as Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb and Dracula Has Risen from the Grave.

Let Me In begins in Los Alamos, New Mexico in the winter of 1983. The film opens on a shot of a hospital where then President Regan can be seen on a television delivering a speech. The filmmaker does a good job of weaving the 80s feel through the film and I wonder if this is to dispense with issues of information overload or if they are picking up where Hammer Studios left off in the late 70s.

The story follows Owen, a young, often bullied boy, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee, who may look familiar from the film The Road. Owen is a bit of a late-bloomer and has an unhealthy obsession with Now and Later candies, often singing the jingle as he eats them.

We find out that Owen likes to watch his neighbors through his telescope, which one might be able to chalk up to curiosity until we see him wearing a mask and challenging his reflection in much the same way the bullies challenge Owen. Unfortunately, this causes us to question Owen’s stability. While peeping on his neighbors, Owen sees a mysterious, shoeless girl, played by Hit Girl- Chloë Grace Moretz, and a man, he assumes to be her father, played by Richard Jenkins from Stepbrothers. She and her caretaker are moving into the apartment next-door to Owen.

The evening of a particularly horrible bullying incident, Owen meets the new neighbor in the courtyard/playground of his apartment complex. She tells him that they cannot be friends and that is just the way it is. A few days after this conversation, Owen sees the girl again and asks her name. She tells him that her name is Abby and this is the beginning of the relationship which is the focus of the film. Abby tells Owen that he needs to learn to hit back and if he hits hard enough, they will stop bullying him. If that doesn’t work, she offers to help him, stating that she is stronger than she looks.

I don’t want to go into too much plot summary because I feel that this is worth seeing. Yes it has some gore, but it is necessary. Yes, it is technically a vampire film, but that is secondary to the sweet relationship between a twelve-year- old and someone forever locked inside the body of a twelve-year-old. The focus of the film is Owen and Abby. The highlights are Moretz as Abby, Smit-McPhee as Owen and the loathsome Kenny played by Dylan Minnette, who you may know as little David Shepherd from Lost.

I feel that this film doesn’t capture the same atmosphere as the original, which may be Hollywood vs. foreign filmmaker. My wife argued that there are no locations in the U.S. that would be a suitable substitute for Sweden in its hopelessness. I think she’s right. The other choice that I disagree with is the omission of the pivotal scene from the original where (skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t seen the original) Oskar spies on Eli while she is dressing. I don’t feel that the scene was necessary, but if the director is going to allow Abby to raise the question of her gender, that scene needs to be there.

All in all, I enjoyed this remake and hope that it breathes new life (no pun intended) into the original, which is just a bit better. If you have not seen the original, I recommend watching Let Me In first. If you have seen the original, I still recommend this one. It is a well done remake, but beware, there’s no scene involving cats.

How much would I pay to see this again? Out of $10, I would pay $7. I enjoyed it, but the original beats it on atmosphere, or maybe it is because I saw that one first.

Jay Fralick is the co-host of The Wanna Watch a Movie? Podcast

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17 comments

  • I love tjis film! Thanks for remake otherwise I would have never seen it lol. This movie made me love romance movies. Not all romance movies as they get to sexual, so I see why they are twelve and I can actually relate to them. Heck, everyone should relate to it as long as they’re not anti-social…

  • How can I put this any better… Which ever of the book interpretations is seen first can guarantee your vote. That’s how good this remake was. In fact, if it were not for the fact that I watched the first.. I’d say this version caught my attention most.. As a matter of fact? I change my mind mid way through this opinion.. It did. And I watched the Swedish one first. This one rocks better.

  • I read the novel first , the remake and the orig movie .
    By reading the novel the remake captures the mood, imagination and suspense better .
    The strong contrast between night and day in the orig is more hollywood in style the editing and pace seem to quicken the film .
    The remake uses less characters and so the focus on the two main characters is stronger .
    Both great films and too be honest it doesnt matter which movie was made first, more importamtly how they interpreted the novel.

  • The original version was my favorite film of 2008. I do agree, the remake is better than expected, but in my opinion does not compete. It fails to match the mood and pace of the original, both of which I thought were integral to the overall feel of the film. This felt more like a horror and less like a love story. Also, the director fails to mention the original film in the special features and makes it seem as if his interpretation of the book was unique….and anyone who saw both films knows it was not.

  • Couldn’t replicate the cold hopelessness of wintertime Sweden in the United States, huh? Have you seen Cleveland lately? Hollywood should stop “remaking” foreign films into more palatable versions for U.S. consumption. The spirit of the original is often lost in the haze of CGI and big-name actors.

  • I thought the original captured the essence of the book a lot better than the remake seems to have done, but I’m probably biased, being Swedish and all. And I know you should never compare the book with the movie, but I still have to say the book was a hundred times better than the movie. I guess genderless vampires are better in your head. I think I’ll still watch the remake, trying not to compare it to the Swedish one, and we’ll see.

  • Sorry Spleen Stabber, but I have to correct you, Lina Landersson who played Eli in Let the Right One In is a girl. You make good points. I think thet do a good job playing with gender in the film, Owen being called a little girl and the knife and stick props- Abby fulfilling the stereotypical male role but the “I’m nothing” line could be read as you read it, or as I do where it does call gender into question. I felt the interpretation of the source of the original hit it better.

  • I was a huge fan of the original, and I wasn’t sure if this version was going to be as good, but in the end I honestly liked this version better. I think this is mainly due to the fact that Matt Reeves and the rest of the cast didn’t go into the project taking it is a remake, but as an American version. The cast intentionally did not watch Let the Right One In so that it would not influence their performances in anyway, so it was truly a separate film. I was hugely relieved that they left out the scene where Oskar spies Eli dressing not that I’m a prude, but I just didn’t think it was necessary. The gender ambiguity was not unaddressed in this movie like Jay said it was as in the original when Eli says she’s not a girl Oskar never asked “what are you?” Owen, however, does ask this question, and Abby responds “I’m nothing.” Gender is a lot more than just the parts you have downstairs and this line from Abby shows that even though she was once a little girl she stopped being one a long time ago. Also I don’t think the gender ambiguity was that questionable in this movie because in the first one you really couldn’t tell if Eli was a girl or a boy (partly because the actor who played ELi was in fact a boy). Now onto the points about the CGI, puzzles, and Now and Laters that MushroomJones felt were just “unnecessary and lazy writing,” were some of my favorite things about the movie and what made me like it better than the original. Here’s why: First I thought the cgi was excellent for portraying Abby’s (maybe not “true”, but at least other) savage and monstrous nature the way Let the Right One in Simply didn’t. I thought the puzzles were brilliant and multi-faceted. For one they show why Abby was interested in the Rubix cube, which was the first thing Owen and Abby were able to connect over. It also shows how she was able to solve it so quickly. Finally it is the only real representation of how truly ancient Abby is, with some puzzles clearly dating back centuries and from all over the globe. The puzzles are also the only possessions she really has and show the dichotomy that even though she is a very old soul she still has a few childlike tendencies. Ultimately why wouldn’t she like puzzles, she has to do something to pass the time. In the puzzle scene Matt Reeves reveals something that completely blew me away and that I didn’t realize in the first movie. The old grainy set of photo-booth photos, they show her with a young boy in glasses, this in combination with the previous scene when Abby puts her hand on her “father’s” cheek and he says “please don’t see that boy again” made me go OH FUCK! he’s just like Owen. Maybe I’m the only one who didn’t realize this in the first movie and maybe that’s because I’m thick or don’t speak Swedish, but when I realized that the “father” who maybe wasn’t a father and was just some weird dude who was helping her, was actually someone just like Owen: a friend, caretaker, and even lover. This leads into the point about the candy. First off it sets the scene of the 1980′s and brings in a sense of nostalgia with the little jingle, then just like the first movie it shows that even if Abbey tries to eat something besides blood it makes her sick and she uses the candy box to write her goodbye note on. But finally, and this is what made the movie for me, in the final scene where Owen is sitting on the train with Abbey in the trunk he sings the jingle again: “eat some now and save some for later,” no longer a harmless little song but something represents the entire film and the cycle Abbey goes through of traveling to new locations once things get a little bit to hairy, and finding a new caretaker once the old one dies. Eat some people now and save some, like “the father” and Owen for later. A very subtle touch, but an absolutely brilliant one.

  • I hated the thought of Hollywood trying to remake the masterful original and if it wasn’t for my gf yanking my arm all the way to the theater than I wouldn’t have see the remake. I’m glad she did, and was surprised that both films could stand alone from each other (although the original is still my favorite). Great casting and a decent script saved this version from remake hell. Kudos to the Cloverfield guy!

  • I saw the remake this past week very begrudgingly. The original was my favorite film of 2008 behind Iron Man (yeah, that’s right) and the remake was FAR better than it could have been.
    The CGI scenes were unnecessary and some of the plot points (we are in the 80′s, Abby isn’t a girl, she’s into puzzles and he’s into Now & Laters) seemed like lazy screen writing.
    There should have been more scenes like the one with Abby and her ‘father’ at the sink right before he goes out the last time.
    If you saw the original, definitely check this out while you can.

  • Thanks for the reference to Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb – I was trying to remember a scene from a movie I saw as a child, and that was it.
    I’m interested in the plot – more than the $7 level, which I can only assume is due to averageness elsewhere.

  • I have also debated seeing it because I enjoyed the original so much, but I’m definitely seeing it now. I was getting sick of Hollywood remakes but this review gives me hope. Thanks!

  • I myself loved it! (I loved the original too for the record)

    For myself, I think I actually enjoyed this remake a tiny bit better. The changes made it a little more fluid and I was able to get wrapped up in it just a little bit more.

  • Thanks for this. I was debating whether to see it or just go back to the original, and this gives me enough of a push to at least see it and draw my own thoughts.

    I will say that I think there is no way the remake can beat the original on atmosphere, but I could well be wrong. I am glad to hear that they keep it a retro piece.