This week we are talking vampires. Okay, not sparkly vampire, but we’ve got a love story…it’s just not what you think.
Let The Right One In (2008) is the story of Oskar, a 12-year old boy in a small village, who is tormented by Conny and his minions every day. Oskar fantasizes about getting his revenge one day, but his fear keeps him from fighting back. The bullies are awful little children. Oskar even has a knife he dreams of using to kill them.
Everything changes for Oskar once he has a few chance meetings with the new girl in the apartment next to his, Eli. She is an odd girl who can solve a Rubik’s Cube on command, and her “father” covers the windows of the apartment. Oskar and Eli begin to be friends, despite Eli telling Oskar that they can’t be friends. Once Eli has moved in to town, there begins a series of murders that keeps everyone in town on edge.
Eli is, of course, a vampire. Her “father” is quickly revealed to the viewer as the murderer, collecting the blood from the victims for Eli to drink. He is getting old though, and sloppy. His age has caught up to him and Eli begins doing her own killing, leaving witnesses, and even a poor woman who is not killed at feeding, turning her in to a vampire.
I don’t want to give too much away, don’t want to spoil too much. This film is less about vampires and more about a coming-of-age tale of Oskar finding his confidence and the girl who helps him do so. He loves her, though it is never truly spoken. They see one another at night, a long time passes before he discovers her vampirism. The film centers around Oskar and Eli. Lore of vampires is never gone in to too deeply, except when it naturally comes about. I love that this film does not explain to death all the ins and outs of being a vampire.
From the respect of filmmaking, I think this is brilliantly done. The tone of the film matches the pace and mood of the script. Music is sparsely used, almost zero. When it is used, it doesn’t foreshadow action, which often times ruins a scene and can even distract from what is going on. I love the restraint in the music. The cinematography is great with creepy panning shots, wide shots of scenes, and the lighting in most interior scenes is terrifying. There is none of the clichéd shadow shots and over dramatic lighting effects. This film doesn’t try too hard, which avoids the caricature that vampires often fall victim to in cinema: Twilight, Daybreakers, Blade, The Lost Boys, et al.
As for any contrasts from the US and Scandinavian versions, there are a few, and they are pretty stark.
For those that don’t enjoy dubbed audio or reading subtitles, there is the very good (if not superior) Let Me In (2010). Same premise with some differences. Same bullied 12-year old (Owen) and the same 12-year old vampire (Abby). There are some structural differences though. For frame of reference, the setting’s year is vaguely placed during the Reagan administration, placing it in the eighties. The Scandinavian version feels more late 70’s to early eighties, but as far as I could tell there was no clearer frame of reference than clothing, cassette player, and the 45 record player.
Outside of potential timeframe differences are location, but this is a moot point. The settings are the same in their rural nature and cold climate.
The opening scene of the US version is the ambulance occupied by a man who is suspected of murder being rushed to the hospital to treat self-inflicted chemical burns. The original opens on Oskar in his room, and the snow falling. Basically, the US version starts in the middle, and then back tracks with the tired “Two Weeks Earlier” device. This is probably to get the viewer hooked because US audiences, in my opinion, are not as patient as foreign viewers seem to be, based on the structure of their films.
Another huge difference is that there is a detective investigating the man in the ambulance and the series of murders in the area, even after his death. This character does not exist in any manner in the original. There is this whole device of the nosey detective just doing his job that is only partly existent in the original in the form of a concerned friend of a murdered victim.
Among other differences is the complete absence of anyone near the role of Virginia. In the original, Virgina is turned by Eli during an interrupted feeding. This character’s equal is completely absent from the US version, for better or worse. I am not quite convinced either way.
The US film ends the same, starts differently, explores much the same lore and character development (though totally void of the distracting relationship with Owen’s father that Oskar has).
They are different films because of the devices that are used to advance the story in either version. There is more music, foreshadowing, and more gore in the violence in the US version. Much as US versions will do, there is a bit too much detail for the viewer when the foreign version shows restraint in certain ways. Yes, there is violence and a bloody-mouthed 12-year old girl in both versions, and other scenes of blood and murder, but I just felt that the original used this device sparingly, which made the sight of the gore that much more disturbing.
Is one better than the other? I don’t think so. The foreign version used a slower and quieter manner of telling a truly horrifying story that gets under my skin and leaves me with mixed emotions at the end. The US version has the detective I get to like a bit, and creates a bit more tension of being “found out”, but there isn’t anything more in the US version than the original, it’s just different. I say watch them both. I saw Let Me In before I saw Let The Right One In, and what struck me about both films was the basics: The fascinating story, the focus less on defining lore (and Eli’s past), and leaving the focus on the relationship of Oskar/Eli-Owen/Abby.
If you are a horror fan then this is a definite watch. I was riveted through both films, and the very subtle music let the scenes really speak for themselves instead of knowing how you should feel at any moment based on the sound design. I loved these films. There is no list of truths of vampires, but what is true about Eli/Abby is revealed naturally through the film. Neither will spell things out too clearly, though the US version clubs you over the head just a bit more, and uses tired devices to keep you engrossed. Yes, the US version might have taken some queues of subtlety from Let The Right One In, but it’s not distracting. I loved the casting in the US version a bit more than the original, but that is about regional stardom, though the eyes of Eli trump that of Abby, but Abby is a more disturbing character based on her porcelain doll look…maybe this stems from my phobia of creepy kids in films, but you’ll see what I mean. Both vampire girls make my skin crawl, but it is a horror film, after all.
Don’t miss either film. They are both currently streaming on Netflix.