As the Lovely Emily, The Lovely Husband, and I walked out of the theater, and apparently one of her husband's friends was near us, because he shouted out to him, "So you guys just saw Let the Right One In [sic] too?" They talked about it a little back and fort as we crossed the street, and the guy ended with, "I think if you hadn't seen the original, you'd really like this," the guy said. I raised my hand and waved triumphantly: "And that's why I didn't!"
The thing is, I was dying to see it. It actually played here at the Sidewalk Film Festival before it opened wide. I didn't get to see it, though, and I heard they screwed up the DVD subtitles by only vaguely translating the dialogue, so I was going to wait for a proper DVD to come out (as promised after an outcry. Check the product info/DVD case for "theatrical subtitles"). And then I heard about the American version going into production, and I thought, you know, I really like what Matt Reeves did with Cloverfield. I'd like to see what he does with this, but without the original--which will inevitably be better--peering over my shoulder the whole time. So, you know what? I'll set that aside until the new one comes out, and that way I have a chance at liking both of them. So it was killing me to wait, but that's why I did. Regrettably, I found out pretty much the entire plot in the meantime, to the point where I'm watching Let Me In going, "Oh, this is going to be the scene where [spoiler spoilers spoiler]!" So even today, I didn't go in as a blank slate. But I at least didn't have the memory of the original movie haunting this one and--seriously, you guys, I feel awful that I haven't seen the original. At the same time, however, I also have the opportunity to give you a perspective that fans of the original can't.
OKAY. ALL THAT ASIDE. What I was surprised to realize about halfway, maybe two-thirds of the movie, is that Let Me/The Right One In is about... child abuse.
The thing I love about the vampire is that it's such a flexible metaphor; it can touch on almost anything a particular storyteller wants to talk about. Sexuality, female sexuality, the patriarchy repressing female sexuality, homosexuality and/or homophobia, contagious disease, xenophobia, mental illness--seriously, this is just off the top of my head, and I'm pretty sure you can find all of those in Dracula alone. But everyone was all "TAKE THAT, TWILIGHT" with Let the Right One In, so I thought it was basically going to be about young vampire love done right: disturbingly. Because--and I have said this a hundred times--I feel like Twilight would have worked if it had acknowledged that Bella is really messed up--that both she and Edward are, and that that's why they work together. They could never be happy with anyone else, because their particular dysfunctions (however you decided to write them) mesh uniquely. Instead, we get this relationship presented as completely normal and admirable. So I'm going into Let Me In thinking, okay, there's going to be some actual vampiring, it's going to be fucked up, and the movie's going to acknowledge it as such.
Which, I mean, it does.
But there's a scene where I suddenly realized what the movie is actually about. Early on, we see Owen wearing a Halloween mask, menacing his reflection with a kitchen knife: "Are you scared of me, little girl? Are you?" Ooooooookay. But we also see that he's being bullied at school--and we find out that that's what the bullies say to him, that they call him "little girl." He buys a pocketknife and starts acting out retaliation on a tree, stabbing it over and over, calling it "little girl" as well. But then, there's a scene where we find out that the bully's older brother has been doing the exact same thing to the bully, "little girl" and all. (I suspect the American movie is a bit heavier-handed in this regard than the Swedish one. This is also a movie that has Owen sneak out past a TV with "IT'S 10 PM, DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR CHILDREN ARE" on the screen.) And at first I nodded knowingly: abuse creates abusers, so on and so forth, like... a virus.
And then I realized what this means for Owen, who's been acting out since the very beginning of the movie. He's already been infected. He was "bitten" before Abby ever showed up.
And I think that's what so important about the massive neglect on the part of all the adults in the movie. Owen's mother, while fretful, also spends her nights in an alcoholic blackout, unable to help Owen cope with anything because she herself can't cope with her ongoing divorce; she's there, and yet so absent that we literally never see her face. Owen's father is physically absent, and completely unhelpful during a psychologically pivotal phone call. Granted, "Dad, is evil real?" is kind of a stumper, but my feeling is that if your kid asks you a bizarrely vague philosophical question, you need to keep him talking until you find out what the real problem is. The less able he is to articulate it, the more crucial it's going to be. And "Dad, I'm pretty sure my preteen girlfriend is a vampire" is... kind of up there, in the Important Problem Hierarchy. But this could have just as easily been Owen trying to reach out and tell his father that he's being bullied, trying to ask for help. And his father just says, "Your mother's crazy, stop listening to her." You know... the other parent he needs support from: shut her out, too. Thanks, Dad.
Owen also won't--can't--go to his teachers for help, but even when a gym teacher does see this little kid fending off three bigger kids with a stick, he doesn't intervene. (Granted, Owen's classmates finding a body fifty feet away kind of diverts his attention.) But even then, when Owen's taken to the office and threatened with suspension, the gym teacher--who we just saw giving the bullies the side-eye--doesn't step in and say, "Okay, these little assholes are menaces to society, and if I were that kid, I would have bashed that punk's ear straight through his skull in self-defense too. DAMN, KID. High five." And this is a teacher who, in a distant kind of way, supports Owen's efforts to work out and get stronger. He knows. But he does nothing. All the adults in Owen's life either have no idea what's going on, or they do, and they won't tell the others and get him help. Abuse creates abuse, but neglect allows it to flourish. And that's the actual tragedy of this movie, because there's no turning back for Abby. She is what she is: a vampire, a metaphor. But Owen didn't have to turn out this way.
So the movie ends with Owen becoming her new companion, and you either realize that the storyline with her "father" was a glimpse of Owen's future the whole time, or--as I did--you knew it going in. And, knowing that, it's incredibly sad to watch the movie progress for both the father and Owen, because you're seeing both how the life of a provider for Abby begins and ends. Eventually he'll be tired, worn-down from a rootless life of murder, enduring Abby's rages when he can't provide the blood she needs, growing older even as she remains young, being replaced by someone young and fresh, maybe hating her a little, but still loving her, right to the violent end. And maybe that's why Abby's drawn to Owen, not in spite of catching him stabbing that tree, but because of it: maybe he has an anger and a need to lash out that her current companion never did. I'd thought she was telling him to hit back at the bullies because she cared about him, and knew she couldn't protect him during the day--and maybe that was part of it. But as Emily pointed out, she may have also been testing him, to see if he was capable of violence. She's not happy just because he stood up for himself; she's delighted that he's proven that he's on his way to being capable of doing what she needs. Maybe Owen will have a happier ending with her--maybe he'll be... better at killing? Somehow keep her affections even as he grows old? Die young, before he can become obsolete? Yeah. I don't think there's any way for this to get "better."
And so, because no one will step in and help this poor kid, Owen does become suited to Abby's needs. In that way, yeah, it's a love story that's honest about its dysfunction. And on one hand, you're glad that Owen finally has someone to feed him emotionally, even as she needs him to... well. But you've also seen what will very likely become of him in the future. It's messed up, and I like that on the vampire level--I really liked the movie itself, and find the whole idea fascinating--but... it's incredibly sad on the human, "this happens every day" level.
As far as the movie itself, on a technical level--again, I don't know how much of this is copied directly from Let the Right One In, but I did really like the way the car crash was shot, with the car appearing to stand still while the world tumbled around it. And poor Richard Jenkins manages to be one of the saddest and yet scariest things I've seen in a while, hiding in people's backseats with his garbage bag hood. The interesting thing is that we get emotionally invested in the movie's two killers; we're terrified both of what they're going to do next and how they might suffer for it. I was freaked out by Jenkins lurking in the backseat, but also mentally pleading that he would be able to strangle that kid before the other one got back. So the suspense comes at you from all kinds of different angles, which is interesting. However, I didn't so much like the Action! Vampire! Abby! effect; I don't know if they were going for "monstrous and unearthly," but it just came off as fake. I'd like to be able to look at an effect like that and know that it logically, it's probably CGI, but wonder if it could possibly be a practical effect, a real person. Instead, I wouldn't believe it was real even if I found out it was. So. Not so great there.
The other thing--my single biggest problem with the movie--is the score. And it kills me, because I love Michael Giacchino's work. But Let Me In would be a completely different movie without it, and I think it would be a better one. It's a very tender, sentimental score at times--times that actually detract from the movie as a whole. When Abby's climbing up the hospital facade--that weird, jerky-fake effect again--to see her "father" one last time, I don't want the music to hammer home that it's sad and sweet and touching. I want to be given the opportunity to reflect that Abby is crawling up a building to see her "father," who didn't start out as a "father" to her, who has become a serial killer to provide for her, who is tired of living, and has had to douse himself with acid rather than allow her to be found, so she can put him out of his misery. I would really like to be able to take all that in, but the score doesn't really give us room to, and it's one of the most "American" things about this version, I'm guessing.
I have a feeling this will not be a problem in the Swedish version.
One more thing: a while back, we were discussing the title change, and I think the American version's title says a lot about the overall tone of the movie. What I said at the time was:
I don't know that a whole lot of people think about it, who knows. To me, "let the right one in" implies that there's a wrong one to let in, and that you really, really don't want to do that. And if you have to be told to let one in and not the other, that suggests that it might not be immediately apparent which is which, that there's some kind of deceit, or something to discover or reveal. Which is the wrong one? I don't know, but make sure you don't let them in. So the title itself is a warning. And you immediately have a conflict right there in the title--for some reason, we're starting out with the concept that there are good somethings and bad somethings, even if you have no idea what the movie's about. You already have a sense of dread and suspense.
Whereas "let me in" doesn't necessarily imply horror--it could be the title of a romantic drama, with the meaning of "open yourself up to me emotionally." At the same time, if you do know it's a vampire movie or at least some kind of horror, it conjures this image of a vampire at the door saying, "Let me in." Do you want to do that? Is the vampire trying to persuade you to do a good thing or a bad thing? Will it put you in danger? It's a little seductive--not sexually seductive, necessarily, but in a more general sense: persuasive. But yeah, the title isn't a warning now; it's a seduction. The original title is looking out for your best interests; the new title may not be.
I love the original title, but honestly? I think "Let me in" may be better suited to the movie I actually saw today. So there you are.
ETA: Something I'd like to go back and mention, about the "longing to be accepted" theme of the original, which also has additional implications for Owen.