“Let The Right One In”: The Book vs Movie Debate

Last night I did something out of the ordinary. I watched a movie adaptation of a book that I had finished the night before. Normally I wait a while before seeing such an adaptation. I feel that the novel is too fresh in the readers mind, and therefore the movie as an independent creation can’t be properly appreciated. But I’ve grown impulsive of late. My recent post about The Name of the Rose is testament to this.

Anyway, the book was Let The Right One In, a realist romance drama with vampires. Now before you go all Twilight on me and close this page, let me say from the outset that this book is as far from Meyer’s product as a duck is from an albatross: same DNA but a different species altogether.

LTROI was written by Swedish novelist John Ajvide Kindqvist and it tells the story of an unlikely friendship-cum-romance between a 12-year-old boy, Oskar, and a centuries old vampire, in a 12-year-old body, called Eli. Oskar is bullied in school and harbours fantasies that one day he will kill his tormentors. His mother tries her best to raise him, his father having long since left, but Oskar is a handful. Through a series of events, he meets Eli and together they face up to their personal struggles and eventually come to terms to the cards life has dealt them.

Put like that, it doesn’t sound too exciting, does it? But that’s where you’d be wrong. I’m deliberately trying not to spoil the pleasures for those readers who have yet to savour Lindqvist’s book. As it is a vampire story, there is horror – plenty of it. There are characters in its pages the reader hopes they’ll never meet in real life: bullies, pedophiles, alcoholic fathers, egomaniacs and madmen. The vampire and her friend are the most sympathetic of all. But not once in his novel does Lindqvist make a false step. This is ‘kitchen sink’ drama. The vampire hunters in this book are people like you and me. They hurt, they abuse themselves and others, they hope life will treat them well. Without giving too much away, the story doesn’t end well for everyone. But there is a happy ending of sorts for the two children.

Now to the movie. The problem with all adaptations is what to leave in and what to take out. What makes LTROI the movie work so well is that Lindqvist adapted his novel for the screen. The author himself knew what would work on the big screen and what could justifiably be put aside. Gone is much of Hakan’s (Eli’s protector) back-story as a convicted child abuser; it’s barely hinted at in the movie. Much of the novel’s police procedural is gone. Lindqvist thought it would slow the pace down. For a 110 minute movie he made the right choice, I believe. Hakan’s vampirism is gone, too. Once he’s dead in the movie, he no longer reappears. In the book, he keeps coming back. He’s the real monster in Lindqvist’s novel. I would have liked to have seen more of Hakan.  If I have one quibble with the movie it would be this. But needs must.

Because my memory of the book was so fresh I had no difficulty in following the movie. But I don’t think anyone needs to read the book in order to appreciate what Lindqvist and his director Tomas Alfredson produced. The two young actors, Kåre Hedebrant (Oskar) and Lina Leandersson (Eli), are exceptional. They were 11-years-old at the time of filming, and the subject matter can make for some uncomfortable viewing – but the pair pull off a difficult job, Lina especially.

Any reader of horror worth their salt should read the book and see the movie. They are two sides of the same coin. It was a pleasure (sometimes visceral) to see Lindqvist’s vision on the screen.

Typical of all things Hollywood, producers got whiff of LTROI and have released a remake, called Let Me In, directed by Matt (Cloverfield) Reeves and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee (from The Road) and Chloë Moretz (Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass). From what reviews I’ve read, I believe that the film makers did a great job. They changed the principal character’s names and moved the action from Blackeberg, Sweden to New Mexico, but kept everything that made the original movie special. Unfortunately, it appears to have died a death at the box office. Maybe it was one vampire movie too many. It’s a shame. But if and when it comes over this side of the Atlantic, I’ll check it out.

I’ll leave you with trailers of both movies. Thank you for reading.

12 responses to ““Let The Right One In”: The Book vs Movie Debate

  1. I think I’ll read the book. It sounds very interesting. As far as it being one too many vampire movie, I think the real problem in America is the portrayal of a child turned vampire. It creeps out the Puritanical morays of the Christian majority here.
    I like being creeped out and there isn’t much left out there to creep me out so easily.

  2. I’ll let Alannah know to check out this post.

  3. Ah yes, hello, vampire love here 😎
    “Let the right one in” is a great vampire film. Captured the loneliness of the vampire. Haven’t read the book but I have to admit after reading what the book is like, I am kind of glad I only got to experience the film. It’s a great thing when the author has a chance to participate in having a hand with the screenplay. Makes a huge difference.

    I’ve just watched “Interview with the Vampire” and remembered that Anne Rice did the screen play there, which is why the movie works so well. Like you, I’ve only just read the novel itself, and to watch the film was to have the novel come alive and that’s a great thing.

    Right…back to my coffin 😉

  4. Often movies based on novels don’t measure up. One of the best adaptations I’ve ever seen was Dr. Zhivago. It followed the story line to perfection.

  5. Read first, film later. I’m off to Amazon to order it. Nothing like a good vampire novel for me. Thanks James!

  6. Sorry James, much as I love you, you lost me at the first ‘vampire’ … but I got the gist of your post. In my personal experience the movie always palls in comparison to the book.

  7. OK… I just downloaded the book 🙂 off to read it!

  8. I think that both directors did a good job in making the transition from the novel to the big screen, however I do feel that the story of Hakan should have been explored more in the movies. I felt that his story was just as important as Eli’s was. One thing I was kind of hoping for in the novel that we didn’t get was Eli’s back story. The children who played in both movies were phenomenal. Even the bullies were made to be very believable. All in all I must say kudos to both movies…..but the book is by far superior.

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