I really don’t like remakes. Like many film fans, I believe that they should be avoided at all costs, particularly when they are Hollywood remakes of excellent foreign films. However, Hollywood being what it is, remakes are inevitable. So when I heard that there were plans to remake the excellent Swedish film Let The Right One In, I have to admit that I was disappointed. Tomas Alfredson’s original film was a gem; it arguably helped to launch the recent vampire craze which has been so unfortunately and odiously continued by films like Twilight. I did not have high expectations for Let Me In, given the current state of the vampire genre, but director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) manages to deliver a pleasant surprise. If you have to remake a film, this is how to do it.
By now you have probably seen the original Let the Right One In, so you are likely already familiar with the story. If not, you need to see it now, before you see the remake. All you need to know is that the two films a structurally very similar; Reeves successfully adapts elements from Alfredson’s version and the original John Ajvide Lindqvist novel into a taut Americanized version of the story. Like the Swedish version, the setting is still the early 1980’s, but Los Alamos, New Mexico stands in for suburban Sweden. Some names are different and a few key events and characters are slightly changed. Predictably, the violence and gore are amped up — more scares, more shocking moments — in an effort to appeal to a broader audience. The film also possesses a noticeably more sinister tone than the original. Aside from these minor differences, the film still centres on a lonely 12 year old boy, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), and his friendship with a young vampire, Abby (Chloe Moretz).
These two young actors continue to be phenomenal; both Smit-McPhee and Moretz are coming off of amazing performances in The Road and Kick-Ass respectively. The success of Let Me In depends entirely their performances, and they carry the film effortlessly. A nearly unrecognizable Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under, The Visitor) also turns in a moving performance as Abby’s “father”. Jenkins is a criminally underrated actor and it’s great to see him get a role like this.
I think what makes Let Me In work as a film is that it very consciously acknowledges the source material, while spinning it in a way that makes it accessible to a wider audience. Let the Right One In is an incredible, but its audience in North America will always be limited by the fact that it is a Swedish-language film. Let Me In combines what was great about the original film and the novel that inspired it and comes out as a strong film in its own right. The film felt familiar, but not in a bad way. I had the same feeling in the pit of my stomach, the same dread that the original gave me while watching Let Me In.
Let the Right One In did not have to be remade, but it was. For fans of the original Swedish vampire film, I would say that you should keep an open mind. You’ve seen this story before, just not with the same actors. Think of it like this: in theatre, multiple productions of the same play are common place; different actors play the same part all the time. The film is a well made, well acted effort. Let Me In doesn’t tarnish or cheapen the original, if anything the film is a fitting tribute to it.