My first encounter with John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In was in a blog by a former faculty member of UA&P (my school). I can’t remember exactly what was written there but it had something to do with bashing Twilight. Now, I was a bit skeptical with the concept as it was another vampire love story but what struck me in that blog was the mention that it was Twilight done right. Then I heard the buzz surrounding it and now it really got me curious. Finally, I got a copy of the Swedish film adaptation which became a 2008 indie hit. I watched it, and my first impression: that’s it? It was too subtle for my taste (almost bordering into a BORING film), the cultural barrier was in the way, and the treatment of the vampire kid Eli as an androgynous kid felt quite sour for me. Simply put, it felt overrated.
Then I heard that Hollywood was remaking the film, produced by Hammer Films (see the Dracula films starring Christopher Lee), and directed by Felicity co-creator and Cloverfield director, Matt Reeves. Obviously, fans of the original (including original director Tomas Alfredson) hated the idea, with comments ranging from the beloved film being “dumbed down,” “Americanized/Hollywoodized”, etc. Surprisingly, Lindqvist found the idea okay.
You don’t really me need to tell you what the majority already know: the remake, now titled Let Me In, received positive reviews. In general, it is a good film and, separate from Let the Right One In, stands on its own. Though, yes, there were still some complaints, one of them mentioning that the only reason why the remake was good is because the original film was well made, and that the remake lacked the power and the subtlety of the original. I watched both films and, in a way, I prefer the remake (though there are indeed moments in the original which was handled way better than in the remake). There was something in its theme which struck me deeply and that, for me, makes the remake worth watching.
Plot and Discussion (MAJOR SPOILERS INCOMING)
The film begins in medias res. We are shown a wide shot of a snowy, 1980s New Mexico landscape, and in the distance, we see an ambulance with police escorts rushing down the road. The patient apparently is a prime suspect in an on-going murder investigation and is being rushed to the hospital due to severe acid burns to the face. The patient, later known as The Father (played by Richard Jenkins), is later questioned in the hospital by the Police Detective (played by Elias Koteas), saying that he will eventually find his accomplices. He is later distracted when a nurse tells him that the man’s daughter was looking for her “Father.” While the detective is outside, talking on the phone, the Father somehow falls to his death from his window.
The story goes back two weeks earlier and we are introduced to the protagonist, Owen (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee), who is living alone with his alcoholic mother. We later see that Owen displays signs of psychopathic behavior where he fantasizes killing some people. He is also shown to be a voyeur by spying on his neighbors with a telescope. Owen notices that they have new neighbors: a young girl (Chloe Moretz), and an old man who appears to be her guardian, The Father. Both move next door to Owen’s apartment.
Now it turns out that aside from domestic troubles, Owen is also violently bullied at school by three bigger kids. Thus we see the subjects of Owens fantasies. Arriving home, Owen finally meets the girl, Abby, who later tells Owen that they cannot be friends. It is also established that Abby’s guardian goes out at night and kills people to provide blood for Abby (it is no spoiler, Abby is a vampire). However, the Father seems to be losing his touch as he’s becoming clumsy in his methods, losing the blood he collected in a plastic jar, which causes Abby to go out and hunt for herself. However, her relationship with Owen grows. Both eventually become really close and her influence on Owen is apparent when Owen eventually fights back against his bullies. Owen, however, eventually Abby’s true nature (that her Guardian was once a kid she knew) and becomes scared of her. But he could not bring himself to kill Abby as he has grown very close to her. This culminates when Owen distracts the Detective long enough for Abby to kill him. Finally, when Owen’s bullies decide to get back at him (which nearly gets Owen killed), Abby arrives and kills Owen’s tormentors. Owen leaves Los Alamos, New Mexico, with Abby.
One has observed a cycle of evil, explicit and implicit, throughout the film, and how it develops and manifests in the person. We see this in the characters of Owen, the Father, and even Kenny and his older brother. Owen has nobody to turn, he’s an outcast. He’s bullied in school, and his parents aren’t really there for him (this was shown when Owen desperately calls his father for advice but was not given any). Owen is alone in the world, except for Abby. And Abby was the one who encouraged Owen to fight back. This action had repercussions in the film’s final act when Kenny’s brother decides to avenge what Owen did to his younger brother. Although he was saved by Abby in the end, he would then have to live a fugitive’s life. He has done acts of violence, and he will eventually be condemned to a life of violence. A powerful scene in the film shows the detective, while being fed on by Abby, tries to reach for Owen’s hand, asking for help. Instead, Owen shuts the door, leaving him to die while Abby feeds on his blood. Owen commits his first true act of evil, leaving a person to die. With this act, a cycle will be born. The film suggest this cycle of evil through the character of the Father.
The film shows that the Father used to be a kid known by Abby. The Father, who was probably like Owen when he first met Abby, has grown from an innocent kid to a cold-blooded murderer. Like Owen, the Father has fallen in love with Abby. Like Owen, the Father decided to be with her. Because of what Abby is, they must support her. Thus, they must kill for Abby in order for her to survive. The Father shows what kind of lifestyle Owen will eventually have, and the cycle from the Father continues in Owen.
Finally, another cycle of evil is seen through the characters of the bully, Kenny, and his older brother. One scene in the film shows Kenny being teased by his older brother. The scene shows the older brother calling Kenny a “cripple” and a “girl”. Now remember that Kenny calls Owen a girl in the early parts of the film. Whatever humiliation Kenny gets from his brother, he does so to weaker people. In this case, he does it to Owen. Though this is a smaller part of the film, the inclusion of this scene in the film makes the film much more consistent with its theme of the cycle of evil.
Obviously, the characters themselves are the victims of their own actions. In the case of Owen, one cannot help but feel deep sorrow for him. He’s a misguided kid who will eventually be haunted by the lifestyle he has chosen with Abby. One can imagine what the Father’s experience with Abby was when he was still young, but one can say it could be something like Owen’s. If he didn’t love Abby, he would have left her a long time ago. He didn’t, he stayed with her until he had outgrown his use due to age. The Father died a victim of a vicious cycle of evil, and so could Owen.
The film has been marketed as a romantic/horror/coming-of-age story. The film is all that. It is a romantic story: Owen falls in love with Abby, and the scenes depicting the “courtship” are actually sweet. It is a horror film: Owen falls in love with a vampire and, as seen in the discussion above, the idea of these characters trapped forever in a cycle of violence and evil is unbearable, and in a sense, scary. And the fact that it is told from the eyes of a child is even more disturbing. It is a coming-of-age story: for Owen, it is suggested that he would eventually become a serial killer. In a way, he becomes a “man”, albeit in a twisted way.