Let the Right One In (Movie Review)

Let the Right One In DVD cover

Let the Right One In

After reading Let Me In (a.k.a. Let the Right One In), I watched the movie. To begin, I should confess that I had the version with the “bad” subtitles. You may remember this: A few years ago, every horror fan and every cinephile were up in arms over the fact that this Swedish movie was screened with one set of subtitles and then released with different ones that missed the subtleties. This has since been fixed, but you need to be careful about which one you pick up. I’ve seen enough examples online to agree that the version I saw is definitely weaker. However, I don’t think that would have sufficiently changed my opinion of this. Ironically, the complaints about the new subtitles missing losing the depth are similar to what people point out when they say the book was better. Having just read the novel, and admittedly dealing with the subtle erosion of meaning that I’ll have with any foreign movie, I think that my own internal narrative would have had to fill in most of the same gaps with either set of subtitles.

This movie definitely does have gaps that need filled. It’s a very faithful adaptation, cutting out many parts for time but keeping what it can almost identical to the source material. While I miss a lot of the parts they removed, it was an admirable job of paring the story down to its core. However, maybe it needed to be simplified further. There still didn’t seem to be time to establish characters and relationships, with the early stages of Oskar and Eli’s relationship feeling especially arbitrary. Worst of all, Håkan (Eli’s handler) has his story abridged so much that he ends up feeling unexplained and unnecessary. While I really think that the triangle between him, Eli, and Oskar should have remained part of the fundamental story, this movie would have been better off eliminating him completely than in keeping the fragments that it did.

Other than cutting things out, about the only changes this makes to the story are to fit the remaining fragments together as smoothly as possible. The actual modifications are so rare as to be notable, and are generally good character moments in existing scenes. (A little event in the final scene, for example, as well as Eli’s reaction when being offered candy.) As much as I loved the book, I wish the movie had tried to change more. Different mediums require different stories, and following the original so closely guarantees that the new version can be judged only by whether it’s a good copy or not.

Beyond the story, the movie is decent but not spectacular. The sets and direction create a sparse, bland world. It was probably intended, as it conveys a very mundane life interrupted by horror, but it adds to the feeling that this movie doesn’t flesh out everything that the viewer should know. The acting is generally good, but a lot of key scenes, especially with children, involve unnatural delays. These are awkward silences, not pregnant pauses, such as everyone standing around for a couple seconds after someone is hit and THEN suddenly acting startled. Also, Eli feels frustratingly human all the time, without the cues she should be providing, or even the isolated air that defines her character. However, as Oskar and Eli’s relationship progresses, their scenes together are poignant and effective. Coming from child actors, this is especially notable. Fortunately for the movie, this means that the scenes near the end are the strongest, and therefore the ones that everyone will remember afterwards.

I can only judge Let the Right One In from my perspective, which leaves me surprised that it felt like a fully-realized story to people who weren’t familiar with the book’s details. It’s still unique, though, and has many powerful moments. I’m still glad I read it first.

Grade: C+

 
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