When Matt Reeves remade Let The Right One In back in 2010 for American audiences and called the film Let Me In, he had a remarkably high bar to clear. Thomas Alfredson’s 2008 original Swedish film version about a child vampire who becomes friends with a boy suffering at the hands of bullies was quite rightly hailed as an instant classic.
So, it was no small surprise when Reeves’ version turned out to be nearly the equal of Alfredson’s film. Unfortunately, despite Reeves’ muscular direction and thoughtful screenplay, Let Me In did poorly at the box office even though it earned critical accolades.
Now, some fourteen years later, Showtime has rebooted the concept, this time as a series. Doing so raises the obvious question “is this new version necessary?” As a person who loved both films, I was modestly skeptical, but, as it turns out, more than pleasantly surprised.
The series (created by Andrew Hinderaker) smartly keeps the core story of the two children intact, while winningly expanding the characters of the bullied boy’s mother and the child vampire’s caretaker. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when the mother and the caretaker are played by Anika Noni Rose and Demian Bichir.
Rose, coming off her terrific performance in Maid, is Naomi, a struggling single mother trying to look out for her sweet but undersized and magic-obsessed son (two details that make him an easy target for the school’s “tough” kids) Isaiah (Ian Foreman) while also fulfilling her duties as a homicide detective. It’s no easy lift, and when Mark (Bichir) and Ellie (Madison Taylor Baez) move in next door (a coincidence you just have to roll with), Naomi is encouraged by Ellie’s good-hearted interest in her son. As you might guess, when Mark learns his neighbor is murder police, he’s not too keen on staying down the hall, despite Ellie’s desire to be near Isaiah.
In both film versions of this tale, the caretaker’s relationship to the vampire is less clear than it is here. Alfredson’s film presents the man who looks after Eli as a sketchy (and creepy) character whose relationship to his charge is murky. Reeves was more obvious, making the man a longtime friend who kept growing older while his companion stayed the same.
The Showtime series makes Mark the true father of Ellie, thereby strengthening the caretaker’s connection with and desire to protect the child vampire he is responsible for. In doing so, Mark seeks to provide Ellie with blood while never allowing her to kill. Mark would rather be the monster than let his bloodthirsty child become a killer. Also, in making the bond that of a father and daughter, the series allows Ellie to be truly young at this point in her life, unlike the characters that precede her, both of whom had “been twelve for a very long time.”
Mark’s second desire is to find a cure for Ellie’s vampirism. The series treats Ellie’s condition like a disease, and when Mark’s quest to find a cure leads him and Ellie back to New York City, we find that he isn’t the only one looking to reverse this horrible condition. In a subplot (that is improving through the first three episodes I’ve viewed), we find millionaire Arthur Logan (the great Zeljko Ivanek) enlisting his daughter Clare (well played by Grace Gummer) to help him find a cure for his son Peter (Clare’s brother) who is also afflicted with vampirism.
At first, I questioned whether this additional storyline added to the show as a whole, but at the end of episode three, this expansion really pays off, as we see the horror of their efforts to keep Peter alive while also desperately searching for a remedy. In that way, their stories run parallel to Mark and Ellie’s.
That being said, the key to this series’ success is the same as it was for both films: the kids. As terrific as Rose and Bechir are (and boy are they), everything rests upon the two child actors who have to make us believe in this strange but deeply emotional relationship between prepubescents. On that level alone, Let The Right One In works like gangbusters.
Sure, the show has plenty of effective horror elements. Of particular note is a terrifying sequence when Rose’s detective is being chased through a poorly lit and cavernous hallway trying to reload as a vampire is almost upon her. There’s certainly enough suspense, blood, and gore to keep the average horror fan’s attention.
But in the final moments of the third episode, as we see Ellie climb out her window and take up residence on the sill outside of Isiah’s room (all to the gorgeous strains of Bon Iver’s “Blood Bank”), we know that she’s not stalking him—she’s watching over this boy who fits in nowhere except when he’s with her.
Their connection is the center of the series, and my guess is, if you give this third iteration of a twice-recently told tale a chance, you’ll find that their bond will sit in the center of your chest.
Let The Right One In premiers new episodes every Friday on Showtime.