Title: Let Me In / Let the Right One In
Author: John Ajvide Lindovist
Read: Mid Oct 2010
Summary: Liked it, but had issues with the second half.
This is the original novel (translated I believe from Swedish) that forms the basis of the recent movie Let Me In and last years Swedish film Let the Right One In. First I’m going to talk about the book, then I’ll also discuss both movies and a bit about the process of adaption.
The novel has a lot going for it. It’s a relatively new take on vampire feel — and I’ve certainly seen/read an exhaustive amount of vampire films/books. Lindovist loosely sticks to the basic lore tenants (some of which I regard as sacrosanct). No daylight sparkles, feeding on blood, requiring invitation, etc. But his vampire(s) live a more marginal less powerful existence than many. The emotional core of the story is about a human boy who is misunderstood and bullied in school, and how he is therefore ripe for the kind of symbiotic/parasitic relationship that the book’s central vampire needs to survive. This part I like, and the character of the boy is well done, as is the girl vampire and the relationship. For me it kind of depends on the pubescent pre-sexuality of the central couple. But there are some things the book does to work against itself.
It’s too long, and has an extensive subplot involving some neighbors in the apartment complex. I ended up skimming much of this and it hardly mattered. It should have been trimmed to the bone (which the movies did). In the later third the book also goes crazy with this hard to understand devolution of the vampire’s former thrall/Renfield type into some kind of weird brainless half-vampire. This also was cut from the movies for good reason. But most critically, in the later part of the book [ SPOILER ALERT ] the gender of the vampire is thrown into question back making her/him into a castrated boy, and tossing in a horrific undead on undead anal rape scene. I’m all for extreme, but this whole ending left me not only feeling grossed out, but requiring myself to kind of ignore it and try and pretend she was still a girl to finish the book. I really didn’t see the point and this more than anything mared my overall opinion of the book. I try to like it despite the twist.
So this brings us to the film translations. The process of stripping down a longer work into the compact requirements of a feature film is interesting. You have to find the central story and rip everything else out. This is what the filmmakers did, and in my opinion, almost all for the better. By stripping down the subplots, removing the crazy monster, and most important the gender ambiguity (although there is a hint of it in the Swedish film, but not enough to bother) the story concentrates itself on the central relationship and becomes very effective. Both films are good. The Swedish one is a bit moodier and the vampire is a little more androgynous. In the American adaption, which at times feels like a shot by shot remake, the subplots have been stripped even further and the sexuality notched up just a hair (Chloe is very clearly feminine). The American version also adds a slight tragic-comic quality to the vampire’s old familiar which I liked. Both films are very good, and very similar (besides the language spoken). I really liked this combined take on the story. The only thing I would have borrowed more from the book was a sense of the strange pedophiliac relationship with the old familiar — which although horrible, jives well with the creepy mood of the work.