Saturday, October 3, 2009

Let the Right One Remain the Only Right One

by Jason Pyles

Vampires are an endlessly intriguing concept that have always been conducive to the cinema, even in the silent film era. Supposedly debuting in the cinematic medium in 1909 (though I’m not positive about this) was “Vampire of the Coast,” that is, according to Wikipedia. Arguably, the earliest vampire flick that has been widely seen and is fairly well known is the creepy German silent, “Nosferatu” (1922), directed by F.W. Murnau. It is a must-see for vampire lovers.

These scary beings have become their own horror subgenre whose conventions are familiar to just about everyone. Therefore, when we receive a fresh, new spin on vampires, such as “Cronos” (1993) or “Let the Right One In,” we should be grateful for such dark and lovely gifts.

I remember when I first watched Guillermo del Toro’s “Cronos.” I knew nothing about it — not even that it was a vampire movie, which was not really a secret. But still, I went in with a blank slate and didn’t realize it was technically a vampire movie until about halfway through. For me that fact alone makes “Cronos” something special.

Speaking of special, it’s difficult to discuss “Let the Right One In” without solely recounting a handful of remarkable, unforgettable scenes. Aside from one baffling exception, every visual aspect to “Let the Right One In” is stunning, from its photography, to its casting, to its production design, to its settings, to its lighting. The look of this film is not only beautiful; it also evokes a time and place in space. Watching it, I was a little uneasy, because I was convinced that Eli and her world coexist in mine.

Obviously, the disappointing exception, visually speaking, is the terribly silly-looking cat-attack scene. Not only do the cats look fake, when they gather upon the tortured new vampire lady as she is fleeing, they’re obviously just fluffy and unconvincing props, attached to her clothing, producing the look of a comedic scenario from the “Scary Movie” franchise. This scene is a real chink in the film’s armor.

But it’s nearly forgotten altogether with the very convincing portrayal of the chilling pool scene, a sequence the director, Tomas Alfredson, said in an interview took months to execute correctly. Also, when Eli’s “father” or caretaker dies, that scene looks alarmingly real.

As I mentioned, it’s tough to get beyond mere description, because the film’s delivery is so affecting. In short, I love our simultaneous affection and fear of Eli: She’s mostly sweet and endearing but at times utterly horrifying. You know a film is successful when it can evoke such a paradox from a 12-year-old girl.

A Seriously Long But Related Tangent:

Now, I’ve recently learned from my favorite guys at The /Filmcast (the official podcast of that “Let the Right One In” is inexplicably going to be remade, which to me, is like trying to repaint the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling — it’s pointless and unneeded.

When something is done right the first time, perhaps it should just be left alone. Naturally, the previous sentence smacks in the face of scientific progress, so there are exceptions, but “Let the Right One In” was just done in 2008, and it was done right.

The new version will be made by Overture Films and stars Kodi Smitt McPhee, Chloe Moretz and Richard Jenkins. It’s supposed to start shooting next month, according to No doubt this remake has to do with “Americanizing” a foreign film that many people (like my friends to whom I have tried to recommend this movie) will pass up because it’s subtitled or dubbed. But just saying it’s “a Swedish vampire film” sounds cool enough on its own, even without it being a refreshing, unsettling entry to the genre.

If history repeats itself (and it does), this may end up ugly, much like the Americanization — aka bastardization, in this case — of the chilling Dutch/French film “Spoorloos” or “The Vanishing” (1988). Its ending is truly upsetting and perfect, but when it was remade here in the United States in 1993, starring Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland, the ending was changed altogether, an act that was nothing less than a screenplay abomination. (I couldn’t help but think of the ending of the film that is finally made in Tim Robbins’ “The Player.”) As a result, countless Americans will have seen the dumb remake of “The Vanishing” and will never check out the superior Dutch version.

I’m afraid the same thing will happen with “Let the Right One In.” Maybe I’ll be proven wrong and have to eat my words — I hope so — but I think we should let Alfredson’s “right one” remain the only right one. If they must try to reboot it, they should wait at least 10 years, so people like me can have time to try to talk people like my friends into seeing the Swedish version.

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