comparison: Let the right one In (2008) and let me in (2010)

Through an analysis of the industry, text, and audience categories of Let the Right One In (2008) and Let Me In (2010) this essay explores the various interpretations of a single source text that occur as a result of cultural differences. This essay argues that Let the Right One In is focussed primarily on exploring realistic through lead characters, Oskar and Eli, establishing the film as a mature coming-of-age drama with peripheral horror elements. Whereas Let Me In tends to forgo opportunities for deep pathos and moral ambiguity related to drama, opting instead to employ typical horror genre tropes. Both films should be viewed as a screen adaption of the original novel, Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in). Although Let Me In was influenced by Let the Right One In, (Ebiri) it should not be viewed solely as a remake, but instead as an independent adaption. This is seen in Let Me In’s opening credits, in which Reeves acknowledges the film is based “not on Alfredson’s film as a whole but only on its screenplay and the same-titled 2004 novel from which that screenplay derives” (Wierzbicki, p. 158).

Let the Right One In presents a morally ambiguous world which its young characters must navigate. However, in Let Me In textual ambiguity is traded for clarity and a focus on horror genre elements instead. From an industrial perspective these differences can first be observed by comparing the marketing of each film in their poster design.

Let Me In (2010)
Let the Right One In

The promotional poster for Let Me In clearly positions viewers to receive the film as a horror. Abby is ostensibly positioned as a vulnerable figure as she is curled up in a foetal position, however the supporting tagline “Innocence dies. Abby doesn’t.” subverts that vulnerability and prompts the audience to treat her with fear. The foetal position is a visual reference to the womb, a symbol of safety and fertile life, but when adopted by a matured person it can represent deep trauma or loss of sanity.  The tagline’s focus on the death of innocence juxtaposed against Abby’s inverted foetal position (perhaps an allusion to an inverted cross, often associated with Satanism) can further be read as support of horror genre conventions. Furthermore the poster’s central red colour tone seems to be emanating from Abby, likely symbolising her connection to blood or unrestrained violence. The surrounding black supports the overall sinister tone, as black generally symbolises death and evil. The title of the film, “Let Me In” being an ominous command automatically suggests a conventional horror genre plot in which we know Abby is an evil girl. The poster for Let the Right One In is far more ambiguous in its approach, combining elements from across a few genres like drama and art-house. Its poster does not aim to reveal much textual information but instead arouses audience expectations. Although Eli’s face is dripping with blood, there is little to no visual evidence that suggests she receives any enjoyment as a result. Her facial expression is instead visibly depressed, a concerning emotion for a young girl which positions the audience to sympathise with her. The only clarity the poster provides is in the assurance that the narrative is ironically at its core dealing with very human struggles. The poster’s inclusion of the Tribeca film festival award for best narrative feature suggests that the film may successfully compete with any kind of film irrespective of genre (Marklund, p. 53). It suggests a serious textual quality to the film that is generally found in art-house rather than horror. The title, “Let the Right One In” clearly refers to emotional vulnerability, and an individual’s decision to open themselves up to others. It is a title that could easily be attributed to a drama or romance film, rather than horror.

Comparison Shot 1

Focusing on a particular scene that is present in both films, we can observe the presence of textual ambiguity or alternatively its removal. In Let the Right One In, there is a concerted effort to present Eli as a sympathetic character who is still in touch with her humanity and suffering as a result of her circumstance. After Oskar slits his palm to make a blood pact with Eli, she is unable to contain her desire for blood and kneels down to lick it. From a high angle camera shot, the audience is positioned to literally look down on Eli and take pity on her. Powerless against her impulses, she looks up at Oskar, appearing ashamed of the fact that he has seen the darker side of her identity. Within the scene’s non-diagetic sound, a sentimental piano melody and “bittersweet high-register strings” (Wierzbicki, p. 159) is faintly heard at the end of the scene as Eli runs away, perhaps provoking a sense of sadness and curiosity at the complexities she is grappling with. This scene is crucial to unpacking the meaning behind the film’s title, as key themes of friendship and vulnerability are explored through the symbolic act of the blood pact. After the death of her carer, Håkan, Eli must seek some form of companionship or ultimately die and in order to survive she must choose to “let the right one” into her life. The same can be said for Oskar, who can only overcome his emotional and physical vulnerability by seeking a meaningful relationship. Oskar’s acceptance of Eli’s “otherness” and subsequent development of their friendship leads to an emotional flourishing that otherwise would not have been possible. Comparing this scene with its counterpart in Let Me In, the deep sense of compassion and poignancy that is felt is largely removed altogether. Although textually the same events unfold, it is their change in lighting, camera and acting delivery that transforms it into horror. When Abby kneels down to lick Owen’s blood the camera remains fixed on a steady big close-up shot, focusing the audience’s attention solely on the gruesome facial expressions of Abby. The lighting generates a sinister undertone as Abby’s face is partly obscured in darkness. She is snarling ferociously and twitching, as she seems to inspect Owen in a newfound manner as prey rather than friend. Her animalistic persona is horrific and this is supported by the use of makeup on actress Chloë Grace Moretz. Her skin is considerably whiter than usual giving off an impression of sickliness; combined with the addition of reflective contact lenses that make her eyes appear demonic and possessed. The image is reminiscent of The Exorcist’s “Regan MacNeil”, the young girl possessed by a demonic spirit. The scene’s sound bed creates a dangerous atmosphere, through mostly low-register electronic sounds “that morph into almost hysterical wordless singing from a children’s choir” (Wierzbicki, p. 159).

After establishing the disparity between each film’s textual choices and subsequent genres, we can look to cultural differences as a means of explaining these differences. Critics of Let Me In tend to claim the film is an example of American cultural imperialism and “redundant” (Kermode, 2010), as textually it is almost identical to Let the Right One In, with any small differences being apparently detrimental. Let Me In does indeed follow a similar narrative structure, and although it trades its predecessor’s ambiguity for clarity as mentioned, this does not necessitate textual superficiality. The recontextualisation of the narrative to 1983, Los Alamos, New Mexico can indeed be understood as Reeves accommodating for a wider demographic due to financial reasons. The average English-speaker’s inclination to favour media in their own language, rather than a subtitled film based in a foreign location should of course be factored into when questioning the film’s existence (Child, 2010). However, in recontextualising the film Reeves invokes a new set of narrative themes and critical commentary on American society in the mid 1980s. This can be seen most prominently through the inclusion of Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire” speech that is seen playing on the television in the hospital at the beginning of the film. This embeds the narrative in a political climate in which morality is viewed in terms of binary opposition, and where “evil” is seen as “other” (Hjort and Lindqvist, 2016). Critics mistakenly argue that Owen faces an overdone moral quandary in film “is the person I love evil?”(Mandelo, 2010) However the question Owen is actually asking himself is really, “am I evil for loving this (evil) person?” Owen’s inability to come to terms with his own otherness is revealed when Abby declares she is just like him. Owen attempts to morally differentiate himself from Abby, acknowledging that although he does harbour dark thoughts, he doesn’t actually “kill people”. Abby responds that if Owen had the means to “get back at” the bullies for revenge he would indeed do it, which he reluctantly concedes. This scene typifies the binary sense of morality promoted in Reagan’s speech, that right and wrong is a dualistic battle between ever-opposing forces (Carey, p. 180). A typical trope of the coming of age story involves the questioning of religious beliefs or societal traditions, which is on display in Let Me In as Owen begins to diverge from simple dichotomies of good versus evil. Due to the sheer weight of the religious and societal customs prevalent, it is plausible to say that in some ways Owen’s personal struggle is significantly amplified as opposed to its predecessor. Reeves wants the audience to sympathise with a tormented boy whose only solace is found in revengeful fantasies, whilst “being in that community and having those kinds of feelings” that only alienate him further (Ebiri). Furthermore, Reeves adds more pressure to Owen by removing the connection between his mother and the audience by supplanting her as a literal faceless voice of Christ and ironically alcoholism. We see Owen struggle against the conventional “good” (Hjort and Lindqvist, 2016) as he is faced with the image of Jesus Christ when stealing a twenty-dollar bill from his Mother’s wallet. This image is a visible reminder of God’s benevolent and omnipresent judgment in Owen’s community. It is also important to note that Reagan’s speech was made at the Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals, a clear support between Church and State. Moral exploration in the context of these themes would be near impossible in Let the Right One In, due to Sweden’s firm principles of secularism and largely atheist population (Noack, 2015).

The choice to omit the ambiguity of Abby’s gender is one of Reeves’ most significant diversions from the book (It is made explicit that Eli is biologically a male who was mutilated as a child and has since lived as a girl) and can perhaps be attributed to cultural gender standards. In Let the Right One In, Eli strips naked and lies beside Oskar in his bed. Oskar asks Eli if she “wants to go steady”, at which point Eli responds, “Oskar, I’m not a girl”. It’s unclear whether Oskar understands Eli’s confession to mean she is a vampire rather than a human, or if she is indeed a boy. Nevertheless, Oskar doesn’t seem to deem this revelation as overly important as unfazed he asks again, “well do you want to go steady or not?” Eli agrees after being assured that nothing between them will really change. The exchange is demonstrative of what “going steady” means to a 12-year-old; it is an “affirmation of friendship and loyalty quite disconnected from overt sexuality” (Wright, p. 61). Furthermore, Oskar and Eli both exhibit androgynous characteristics marking them as divergent from gender norms as well as firmly in the prepubescent stage of development. Oskar has pale skin, delicate features and long hair; his presentation is the opposite of the generally accepted construct of masculinity. The scene is not presented as sexual in any sense, rather with a childlike innocence as the characters play guessing game called “Bulleribock” (Wright, p. 61). Viewers may choose to speculate on whether Eli is a girl, but this ambiguity is not significant to Oskar, the overall plot and most likely the target audience of Swedes. Shutts et al. found that due to Sweden’s relaxed stance on gender neutrality, children were less likely to be concerned about gender (p. 1). A later scene shows Oskar catch an “almost subliminal glimpse” of a genital scar on Eli through a POV shot. The shot itself is so brief that the moment remains ambiguous with no further clarification given, however it is a direct reference to the original book. In Let Me In, the scene is identical up to Abby’s confession that she is not a girl. Owen is taken aback with a grimace and in confusion replies, “You’re not a girl? What are you?” This is clear evidence of the cultural divide that exists between the two films. Abby ambiguously replies, “I’m nothing” which in the context of this analysis could be interpreted as a remark that without her gender she is effectively without an identity. Owen now clearly dejected believes that Abby is “making up” a reason to not be his “girlfriend”. Owen’s use of the term “girlfriend” brings the relationship out of the pre-sexual stage of development, moving away from themes of pure friendship and loyalty prevalent in Let the Right One In.

Comparison Shot 2

The culmination of these fundamental differences in text and genre is revealed when looking at the final scenes of both films. The end of the film sees both Oskar/Owen on a train with Eli/Abby in a secured box, to supposedly live out their future together. Both films offer a separate judgment on the situation that can be read through their colour palettes. In Let the Right One In, the colour palette is often awash in muted tones, which highlight the bleak Wintery landscapes of the town. In an interview, Alfredson said the film’s treatment of white and overall colour was inspired by Renaissance painters like Raphael (McKim, p. 145), which can be observed in the dream-like appearance of the mise-en-scene. Although the landscape is relatively bleak there is always the presence of a bright red that defies this, giving off an innocent child-like tone. As Oskar and Eli’s relationship develops, red manifests in costume and mise-en-scene to represent an emotional flourishing related to love and friendship (not violence or evil). This is seen in the colourful Rubik’s cube that Oskar gives Eli, and costume pieces progressively worn by Eli like her pink shirt in Oskar’s apartment. It is also displayed in the final scene in the bright red bag positioned opposite Oskar, pointing to a positive relationship and future together. In Let Me In, the colour palette is always dictated by a dark blue-tint, low lighting and a high degree of saturation, making it at times difficult to discern between the mise-en-scene, but in turn amplifying suspense. The continual desaturation of colour primarily invokes a murky tone typical of horror films, separating it from the original film. This much darker and menacing tone underpins the final shot as the “hysterical wordless singing” (Wierzbicki, p. 159) returns, accompanied by a melancholic violin piece. Although the train seats are dark red, the colour it is not used as a positive motif as seen in Let the Right One In, rather to indicate evil and violence.

Both films offer a different interpretation of the source material, each bringing their own culturally influenced slant and subsequent genre change to the narrative. Without aiming to adhere to the overwhelmingly negative discourse surrounding Let Me In as a typical American remake, it is clear that it is both influenced by its predecessor whilst limited in a sense by its cultural framework. However, its attempt at exploring moral ambiguity in this restrained capacity of a horror film should be acknowledged.


Sources Cited

Child, Ben. “Will Let Me In have the right stuff?” The Guardian. Guardian, 6 Jul 2010.

Ebiri, Bilge. “Talking to "Let Me In" and "Cloverfield" Director Matt Reeves”. Ebiri.blogspot. 8 Oct. 2010, https://ebiri.blogspot.com/2010/10/talking-to-let-me-in-and-cloverfield.html.

The Global Gender Gap Report. World Economic Forum. 2015, www3.weforum.org/docs/GGGR2015/cover.pdf

Hjort Mette, Ursula Lindqvist. A Companion to Nordic Cinema. Wiley-Blackwell, 2016.

Kermode, Mark. “My Worst Five Films of 2010”. BBC Kermode Uncut. BBC. 30 Dec 2010.

Mandelo, Brit. “Let the Right One In versus Let Me In”. Tor. Tor Publishing. 4 Oct 2010, www.tor.com/2010/10/04/let-the-right-one-in-versus-let-me-in/.

Marklund, Anders. Journal of Scandinavian Cinema, vol. 1, no. 1, 2010, pp. 51-54, Ingenta.

Noack, Rick. “Map: These are the world’s least religious countries”. The Washington Post. Washington Post. 14 Apr 2010, www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/04/14/map-these-are-the-worlds-least-religious-countries/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.628558be7853

Shutts, Kristin, et al. “Early preschool environments and gender: Effects of gender pedagogy in Sweden”. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, vol. 162, Oct. 2017, pp. 1-17.

Wierzbicki, James. “Subtle differences: Sonic content in ‘translation’ remakes”. Journal of Adaptation in Film & Performance, vol 8, no. 2, 2015, pp. 155-169, Ingenta.

Wright, Rochelle. “Vampire in the Stockholm suburbs: Let the Right One In and genre hybridity”. Journal of Scandinavian Cinema, vol 1, no. 1, 2010, pp. 55-70, Ingenta.