Let the Right One In (2008) V. Let Me In (2010)
Plot: A troubled young boy forges the most important of human connections with a monster that must kill to stay alive.
Both Tomas Alfredson and Matt Reeves draw on a piece of fiction by John Ajvide titled Let The Right One In (2004). I have read a great deal regarding the varying degree of loyalty with which these directors adapt the events of the book, however, I will not be reviewing them based on this loyalty. In fact, one of my primary complaints about the original Swedish film is that it dips into elements of the novel and is satisfied to leave them completely unexplained. Some stories benefit from this kind of ambiguity but I found myself feeling frustrated and excluded from a deeper understanding of the story. The American film knew when to leave out a piece of plot in the name of a more engrossing experience and I respected the creative license Reeves exercised. That being acknowledged, both movies relate the story of a young boy (Oskar in the Swedish film and Owen in the American) who meets a young girl (Eli in the Swedish film and Abby in the American) and falls deeply in love with her. In Let the Right One In, this “girl’s” gender is called into question. In Let Me In, the character’s gender is never addressed. This, I would argue, is altogether unimportant as Eli is also a vampire and the man who poses as her father is anything but.
How They Compare: Out of all the emotions our species is capable of experiencing, love is perhaps the most important. Love entertains us, sustains us and motivates us. Love drives us to do impossible things and sacrifice to the limits of our ability. Love is not the type of material you’d expect to find in a horror movie. Thankfully for all of us, filmmakers are a breed dedicated to subverting expectations. Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In (2008) and Matt Reeves’ Let Me In (2010) are a pair of films that explore both the saccharine and viscerally terrifying in a brutally honest portrait of love.
Eli’s haggard caretaker is a fascinating presence in both films. While the love Eli shares with Oskar is something new and innocent, her relationship with this unnamed human companion is decidedly more complex. Although Reeves’ incarnation has an edge in depicting this unusual bond, I would recommend watching both films. Together, they paint a tragic portrait of sacrifice and the consequences inherent in relinquishing one’s own identity for another. This broken figure has killed in the name of keeping Eli’s conscience clean; it is truly terrible to see what this has done to his own.
In both films, I found little intrigue in Oskar. A deeply troubled child from a broken home, Oskar turns to Eli for both friendship and an escape from his tormenters at school. Where Reeves’ work differs the most from Alfredson’s is not in Oskar himself, but in the world he inhabits. Complete with far more savage bullies and an ever-present gloom, the New Mexico of Let Me In feels more like a frigid nightmare than an actual place. Let Me In magnifies feelings of apprehension and isolation in places where the original film allowed for color and laughter. Alfredson’s take on the story also rations off time to the drunken, piteous inhabitants of the town in which Oskar lives, which provides for an odd mix of bitter humor and something that might be approaching commentary. I personally prefer Reeves’ more streamlined vision but others might appreciate the broader feel of Alfredson’s movie. The lighter tone is certainly interesting when viewed next to the oppressive darkness of Let Me In but I found both approaches enjoyable. Let the Right One In has a frank visual styling that is instantly appealing while Let Me In is far more surreal and far more disquieting. The combined effect of these films is to illustrate the power of tonality in telling a story. While the content differs very little between the two movies, one feels like an eccentric drama and the other a crushing tragedy.
It is notable, actually, that both Let the Right One In and Let Me In feel so little like horror films. These are monster movies by definition but they are monster movies about what it means to be human. Although I found Reeves’ Let Me In to be an overall more polished and affecting experience, both directors have an obvious talent for storytelling. One must really watch both films to experience this tale in its fullest. It is rare to find the beautiful and the destructive in love so compellingly encapsulated.
Who Wins: Although Let the Right One In is a beautifully unique film, I found Let Me In to be more engrossing and watchable. However, I gladly urge the curious to explore both takes on the story. The choice here has less to do with quality and more to do with preference.