Bullies? Check. Taboo love interest? Check. Youthful yearning, Morse code, fangs, acid-washed faces and a snooping detective you hope never finds what he’s looking for? Check, check, check. Plus there’s a Rubik’s Cube.
And there’s at least one obvious Americanism to Let Me In, which is the title itself. "Me" is more personal than "the Right One," a little more demanding and a lot less arbitrary. The title of the 2008 Swedish film—the Tomas Alfredson-directed Let the Right One In, a tender prepubescent romantic vampire story unlike much else before it—focused on key elements to the John Ajvide Lindqvist book, mainly the relationship between the two main characters (a meek boy, and an irregular non-girl vampire). Otherwise Låt den rätte komma in stayed loyal enough to leave bare footprints in the snow.
The Matt Reeves-directed film Let Me In of 2010 just had to distinguish itself, suggesting, for me anyway, a sense of that old “Let Us Americans Show You How It’s Done” bit. Plus there was the usual exchange rate caution that this could be another dumbed-down version of something already done right once if you could but get over your allergies to subtitles. In other words, the American film made me nervous, having liked the European one so much, and I don’t speak ka-ching the way Hollywood execs do. I feared the modern-day Wicker Man with Nicolas Cage that scandalized the original 1973 Scot version with Christopher Lee and Edward Woodward, that strong sick feeling of pointlessness. To my happy surprise though, Let Me In was more akin to how close The Ring got to capturing the non sequitur creepiness of Ringu. Did it have to be touched up for American audiences? Probably not, but then again, why not?
Let Me In is actually almost monogamously faithful to the Alfredson film rather than the Lindqvist book, right down to stark wintry furnace warmth that the other gave out against potential horror. Even the main character, the 12-year-old Owen (played by dark-haired Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee) looks like the kid cast in the Swedish film, the blonde-headed Kare Hederbrant, in innocence. Both films are set in the early 1980s, the American one in the winter of 1983. There are Thunderbirds and other large vehicles, which become vehicles for Reeves’ backseat cinematography, all adding to the creepy, stalking menace of at large.
The setting from Right One is a suburb of Stockholm, a town called Blackeberg, a powdery Nordic backdrop for a barefoot vampire trapped in a terse 12-year-old’s body. In Me, it’s in working-class New Mexico, yet it looks like Blackeberg in feel and color tone. There’s one scene in the American movie when Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz)—the impossible to befriend vampire and therefore totally lonely vampire—is slumped whimpering in a dark, cold pedestrian tunnel. A man approaches her. He is prey, not predator, and this makes for a certain kind of thrill, just the opposite of the Clockwork Orange scene where Alex and his droogs stumble on a happy wino. The man very sincerely offers to help her and, as he lifts her up to carry her, she pogos off the walls like the bloodthirsty demon we’re told to sympathize with. And really, that’s why the story is unique—we have never felt as cozy with a vampire as this, not in a parental sense anyway. When she looks up with those scanning eyes, the pale demon-color of Regan MacNeil’s in The Exorcist, we stop admiring cuteness for a quick minute to remind ourselves, wait, this little girl is evil as shit.
Like a Hemingway title, Let Me In is played up poetically on the old familiar premise that a vampire can’t enter your house unless invited. Cool. But when Owen gets a little fed up and tells Abby to just come in all casual and frankly a little peeved by her high maintenance attitude, she palsies and her face starts bleeding down about the hairline. Feeling like a real skunk, he then verbally says it’s okay that she’s in, hugs her unconditionally, and we all learn a lesson about being frivolous with these strict vampire commandments.
Why am I saying all this? Because I guess I wanted to say, for those concerned, that the American film version takes fewer liberties than Alfredson did to begin with, and the ones taken are good ones. Both films are enjoyable, horrific and endearing and work in an atypical vampire flick way. It’s rare that a story is so simplistic as to avoid almost altogether cultural transference, which is all owed to Alfredson’s vision of adaptation (which, I’ve read, was actually an ignorance toward the whole vampire genre . . . proving once again that ignorance is bliss).