The Horror of the American Remake
I remember one of the first films I had ever seen in a theater. I was 6 years old and my step father took me to see Batman Returns. I remember being completely enthralled by the story, the gritty atmosphere of Gotham, the intriguing characters (most of whom had some unhealthy affinity towards an animal) and the engrossing plot rich with character development. This one experience led me to a life long love of comic books. When I was 17, I saw The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and it again sparked a life long love; this time for foreign films. Point is, when I saw Let the Right One In, I had to take my friends. I even convinced my friend Anthony, who absolutely despises anything with subtitles, to come with. We all thoroughly enjoyed it. You can imagine my surprise when I heard the announcement of an American remake of the film (because like Anthony, Americans seems to hate subtitles); a mixture of anticipation and dread washed over me. Will it be a faithful adaptation? Or will it be an abomination thriving on the buzz from the original mangled beyond recognition?
A good friend of mine said her movie loving cousin thought it was fantastic, almost a shot-for-shot remake. With this endorsement and almost identical run times my spirit soared and I became giddy with excitement. But as they say, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. To put it bluntly it was like being told Diet Dr Pepper tastes just like the original but when you go to take a sip, you get kicked in the shin with a pair of steel-toed boots then punched in the face. Now I could continue ranting about how Let Me In was a terrible film and a crime against cinema, I will instead try to rationally make my points.
First, Oskar versus Owen. If you haven’t seen either film, Oskar is the name of our male protagonist in the Norwegian film and Owen is the American protagonist. Oskar is an only child, his parents are divorced (turns out his dad prefers the company of other men) and he lives with his mom. Oskar is rather meek but active in class and as such constantly bullied at school by three other young boys. He has macabre newspaper clippings of deaths and imagines one day standing up to the oppressive bullies. Owen is also an only child who lives with his mom after his parents divorce. Owen is also bullied (by much more vulgar) kids. His only extra curricular activities seem to be watching the neighbors with his telescope and lying to his mom about eating Now and Laters.
As for the bullies, in the Norwegian film the bullies you can actually feel empathetic towards. The lead bully is bullied by his older brother and the other two seem to simply be lackeys who simply stand by because they are afraid to be bullied themselves (the bullies themselves are all seemingly scrawny kids). In the American version, the lead bully is simply a vulgar, more athletic kid who I just wanted to punch in the face and his lackeys could’ve been replaced by cardboard cutouts for all they did.
Now let’s talk about our vampire, Eli/Abby. A “12 year old” vampire who moves in next door to Oskar. Honestly the closest to a faithful translation of any character but Abby still felt a little clunky when viewed next to Eli. However my biggest gripe with the Eli/Abby character was the handler. The Norwegian handler played a more central role to Eli’s survival and was subservient that hinted towards a more intimate relationship. We can see that he cares but obviously bends to her will, even sacrificing his life for her. The American handler is actually listed as “The Father” and plays less of a subservient role and more that of a father or jaded, jealous lover (his and Eli’s relationship is more explicitly pointed out).
Now while these changes bothered me, the worst possible change in the line up came from changing the side story of 4 friends who follow the recent string of murders plaguing their neighborhood into the couple Owen watches having sex across his apartment complex. Instead of these old friends following the attacks until one of their own is attacked (by Eli who is subsequently fended by another of the group) sending one of them into such a rage that he tracks Eli down intent on killing her until Oskar comes and saves the day (really he just warns Eli and she rips the guy’s throat out), Abby attacks the woman and her spouse fends Abby off and a rogue detective is the one that tracks down Abby and breaks into her house (pretty sure a creaking floor board doesn’t mean he can kick in the door without a warrant).
All in all Let Me In isn’t terrible by itself but when compared to Let the Right One In it is the usual botched Hollywood treatment popular foreign films get. I actually skipped the remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo because I was afraid it’d be more painful than running a marathon with broken glass in my shoes.
TL;DR version, America takes plot and character development and turns it into shaky camera work and special effects and it makes me sad.