AMC’s “Interview With the Vampire” is a great example of how a TV series can be an opportunity to modernize dated source material and films. This week, the vampires aren’t as lucky with Showtime’s “Let the Right One In.”
Many changes made for the series were done in the name of sustaining narrative television. The TV series follows the basic outline of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel, as well as Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 feature involving a young boy whose new friend is a vampire, as well as 2010’s American remake directed by Matt Reeves, “Let Me In.” From there, both movies take different routes to tell their story. Which version is right for you? It depends.
1. Formulaic Backstories
Advantage: “Let the Right One In,” the series
The two movies heavily focus on the relationship between a vampire and a bullied little boy. In the show, the vampire is Eleanor (Madison Taylor Baez), the boy is Isaiah Cole (Ian Forman), and both are around 12 years old. While the films are positioned as childhood love stories, Isaiah and Eleanor share a chaste friendship. Isaiah is a lonely little boy, like Owen (Smit-McPhee, 2010) and Oskar (Kare Hedebrant, 2008), but he isn’t prone to violence. If anything, the series’ Eleanor serves as his protector. The fact that his mother Naomi (Anika Noni Rose) is a New York homicide detective only increases the danger of their friendship.
2. The Main Characters
Advantage: “Let Me In”
This may be a hot take, but the movie’s remake gives us more interesting characters to bite into (pun totally intended). Lindqvist’s text explains Eli is cared for by a pedophile (!), but Alfredson’s film didn’t want to get into the weeds on that. In his movie, vampire Eli (Lina Leandersson) and her “father” Hakan (Per Ragner) have an ambiguous yet creepy relationship. We know he isn’t her father, but he also has no backstory or context as to why he cares for this girl.
Reeves’ film gives Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) and a man known only as The Father (Richard Jenkins) a more paternalistic connection, but it’s revealed to be superficial. It’s shown that The Father has been with Abby since he was a little boy, which makes her seem far more sinister. If Abby is an adult in a child’s body, is she a predator finding young boys? It also makes that film’s ending less positive when we see Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) possibly go down the same path as The Father.
In the series, Demián Bichir’s Mark Kane serves as its protagonist and leads the show with a compassion and tenderness for Eleanor that’s absent in both films. He also anchors an incredibly diverse cast in stark contrast to both features, which are largely white. Here, the father is presented as a man who’s struggling to find a cure for his daughter’s vampirism.
3. Focus on Loneliness
Advantage: “Let the Right One In,” the film
Lindqvist’s book and both movies are stories of isolation and how the children come together when experiencing violence. Oskar and Owen each have absentee parents and are the victims of violent bullies. Compared to the series’ Isaiah, the movies show their respective protagonists as willing to commit violence with the proper motivation. Like meeting a vampire, perhaps?
The book and the movies are set in Sweden, which seems to intensify its themes of loneliness. (Sweden no longer ranks among the countries with high suicide rates, but that reputation persists.) Setting the series in New York tweaks the isolation angle and shows how the characters can hide within the bustle of a metropolis. It also allows for corruption and shady events to take place undetected; the series’ B-plot focuses on the wealthy Arthur Logan (Zeljko Ivanek) and his own son’s vampiric tendencies. The location also marks a clear wealth divide, with Mark, Naomi, and their respective children living in a small apartment building in contrast to the Logan’s expansive mansion and laboratories.
Showtime’s “Let the Right One In” plays it safe with massive changes that create an expansive sandbox. Nuance is lost, but here’s hoping the characters’ stronger motivations more than make up the difference.
“Let the Right One In” premiered on Showtime October 9.