THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BOTH MOVIES. Use the page-down key several times to scroll down quickly, and then scroll back up until you see “END OF SPOILERS” start to come down from the top, so you may catch previous posts.
I’m a pretty big fan of the Swedish Let The Right One In, and was very very hesitant to even permit the American version to even dare influence my already lofty impression of the Swedish version for fear that it might tarnish this great image I have of the original. I haven’t read the book, but I was able to download a online rip of the actual Swedish version — that is, with subtitles in English that are different from the English subtitles from the American release of the Swedish version, if that makes sense. I’d like to read the book, though, but I’m currently in the middle of Johnathan Barret: Gentleman Vampire.
Anyhow, I got the offer to be treated to the American version of the film and recalled my hesitation anew and at first rejected the offer, but ultimately decided to go for it. After all, don’t I feel my impression of the delicate charm of the Swedish version is strong enough to resist being tainted by some lame American version? I can separate universes, can’t I? My impressions of the Buffy series are untainted by the original film, and my imaginings of how the Lord of the Rings book descriptions are (well okay, largely) unaffected by the Peter Jackson versions, are they not? Come on — it’s a chance to encounter this character set again, and I really love movies with an ending of that nature… So, I gave in.
I must say the storytelling is a little different, but not enormously. It starts out with the vampire girl’s (whose name here is Abby, whereas the boy lead is Owen) caretaker being ambulanced to the hospital after dashing himself with the acid, and he dies there after jumping out the window. In frame story fashion, we then go back two weeks to see what happened up until that point, and then continue on after that from there.
At the hospital we are introduced to a major-ish character who is not in the Swedish version, a lead investigator. He ends up being the guy who opens the cloth-covered bathtub to rouse Abby during the day, instead of the stout boyfriend of the cat-owning woman like from the first one.
My biggest criticism of the American version is that when Abby kills someone, she’s suddenly a combination of a spider, a monkey, and perhaps a little Gollum. The fact that it’s CG is immensely obvious, but given that, we are technically dealing with a person who can move in ways that a regular 12-yo girl could not. Even still, the transition from “that seems reasonable” to “okay, that is just blatantly CG” is harsh, and even to reason that “an undead 12-yo really might be able to move like that” doesn’t feel like a good enough reason to justify that kind of movement. At one point she reminded me of Peter Jackson’s version of Shelob, when crawling over the guy he kills in the tunnel.
My biggest praise of the American version is that, quite honestly, I think I like this vampire actress better than the Swedish version. The boy actor for Owen is pretty spot on, and even looks strikingly similar. Abby’s actress (Chloe Moretz, the female lead from Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl) seems to be more genuinely afflicted by her condition as a regrettable circumstance that is simply present. I don’t especially recall the Swedish vampire being unrepentant of her condition necessarily, but in this one she just seems moreso that it is a split personality that occasionally arises and is a torment to her, rather than necessarily being just part of who she is.
The killing scenes are a little lacking, but satisfactory, I suppose. The Swedish version did almost everything off camera, such as when the caretaker slashed the throat of the hanging-upside-down jogger victim out in the snow, his back was to the camera and the obscured neck was not in line of sight, so we just see his arm make the quick gesture. In the American version, we get a closeup of the upside-down guy who is still breathing but otherwise unconscious and the caretaker putting a knife pointed upward vaguely in the inner collarbone direction, and jabbing upwards into the victim. Only when the knife is plucked out does the blood begin to trickle into the funnel, and really not at all very effectively like someone who had done this several times might know better.
Also in this case, instead of being a jogger, the victim has gone grocery shopping at night and the caretaker slim-jims the door unlocked, hides in the backseat, and when the shopper gets back in, drives away, then stops at a railroad crossing, the caretaker uses what I’m guessing is a vial of chloroform to incapacitate him quickly. This victim is someone Owen knows (knows of, anyway) as the man who lifts weights. Owen is a bit of a voyeur and spies the victim lifting weights earlier in the film, as well as the only bit of nudity the cat-owning woman show a nipple during a make-out scene where she sees him spying and closes the blinds.
The bit with the vampire’s nudity wasn’t in this version, and some have told me it was confusing why that was even in there for the Swedish version. It was in the original, I presumed, to show that the vampire had actually been a boy before — but his bits were gone (removed, or deteriorated, we don’t know per se, perhaps the book says).
It wasn’t really very clear, therefore in this American version, that the vampire really is a boy and not a girl, and seemed to suggest that she’s not a girl merely because her identity as a girl has been tragically ripped from her because of her condition, as if to say, “I am not a girl in the way that you think girls normally are,” without bothering to explain that she merely no longer has the boy bits she once actually did have.
The scene where the caretaker douses himself with the acid is also not in the school gymnasium changing area, but in an upside down car. He hides in the backseat of a guy out at a gymnasium building, believing the driver to be alone, but someone runs up to the driver and asks for a ride, with success. Thankfully the driver needs gas so he pulls to a station and gets out, leaving the opportunity to take a single victim as the passenger stays inside. There is a camera view from the backseat of the passenger turning the keys in the ignition to turn the radio on, that would not really be possible from where the caretaker is lying in the backseat, but it’s a pretty pivotal shot in the moment as it transpires because at first there is ambiguity as to whether the passenger is even there.
Anyhow, the caretaker wrestles with him briefly and drives off backward rather recklessly and ends up rolling the car several times down an embankment (with a good in-car camera from the back as we see the outside spin round and round while the camera perspective stays fixed) and upon threat of being discovered douses himself with the acid. There’s not a lot of visual scariness at this moment, but we do see some of the acid flow over his head and only a little bit of the acid taking effect, but the rest is just a grown man screaming, from an exterior shot of the upturned car and several bystanders (original driver included) running down the embankment to see what happened.
I couldn’t recall whether the male suitor to the cat-owner lady witnessed the attack in the first one to know what so severely injured his lady-friend, but he did in this one, and it was practically right out in the open. This allowed the suitor to witness to the investigator and permit him to go snooping around the vampire’s apartment.
In the swimming pool scene where the bully’s older brother holds Owen’s head underwater, his arm did not float loosely as in the Swedish version, but the severed head does plunk into the water and float by. The shot isn’t as distant either, and although we do see someone dragged along the surface, it’s a pretty tight shot, whereas in the Swedish version you get a pretty good view of the length of the pool and that someone is dragged a considerable distance along the surface.
Also, the bully presumably does not survive the American ending (presumably, because we cannot really tell which piece of what belongs to whom, floating in the water, although I think I saw the curly blonde one lying along the little step inside the edge) — whereas in the Swedish version the bully is left sobbing on one of the nearby bleachers seeing what was done to his brother and friends.
We do briefly feel a pinch of sympathy for the bully, because his older brother is mean in an earlier scene that the boy lead sees from a distance, and that meanness is potentially reflected in the bully himself by calling his little brother the same name the bully uses against Owen.
A nice touch in the American version is when Owen is inside Abby’s apartment and is briefly looking at some of her things, and happens upon one of those photo booth strips with a series of pictures on them — just after the discussion about how old she really is. Since the photo is rather yellowed, I suspected that the boy in the booth with Abby getting their photos taken was actually the caretaker as a youngster, that he’d been with her that long.
Aside from the bits mentioned, I think overall the tone and feel was largely the same or otherwise a good attempt to copy it. I still felt charmed by Abby in some way (perhaps moreso), sympathetic to Owen (perhaps a bit jealous), angry at the bully and his older brother, and a bit unrepentant when Owen cracks the stick upside the bully’s head, even after seeing the damage it did.
If you were a fan of the original and said to yourself, “No, I will not see this one,” as I had when I first learned of it — really do go give it a try. It’s a decent retelling of it, despite how charming subtitles were with the original, and worth the effort — and that’s coming from one of the major doubters myself =P
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