If you haven’t caught on so far, I try to pick movies based on a central theme. This month, in response to the remake by a major Hollywood studio of one of my favorite films viewed last year, I’ve decided to cover that and another soon to be remade.
While there are arguments for and against remaking films, I at least appreciate the fact that these films will reach a much wider audience than the originals. However, the viewer does themselves a disservice to not view to the original, in addition to the new versions–sort of like watching a movie but not reading the (better) book that it was based on. Look at it this way; the people responsible for creating the films thought highly enough of the originals to spend millions of dollars remaking it. If their job is to pick the best, then shouldn’t you consider their advice?
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008)
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Writer John Ajvide Lindqvist penned both the novel and the screenplay adaptation to this sinister vampire story with a titled lifted from the Morrisey song Let the Right One Slip In. Understand; this is not “Twilight” nor “Interview with the Vampire.” It is something darker, more in the vein of “Nosferatu.”
The story is not just of vampires, but also of outcasts and the confusion of youth. The protagonist, Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) is subjected to the merciless tortures of bullying at school and the disinterests of two separated parents for whom he is little more than a burden. Trending towards psychosis, Oskar gravitates towards macabre fantasies of revenge on his tormentors and closely studying newspaper accounts of murders. Little surprise that he meets the female lead, Eli (Lina Leandersson), while extracting fantasy revenge on a barren tree with his knife.
Eli is more than her appearance. Her definition is vague. We learn she is a vampire and that she has been a child for “a long time.” Her relationships are limited to an adult male caretaker/father whom provides her with blood. She is the perfect match for disaffected Oskar. In fact, from their first meeting, there is a palatable change in the way both characters interact in the world around them. Their bond becomes stronger and evolves into a love that is only found between two youths on the cusp of adulthood.
The simple life ‘twas never thus. The string of murders caused by Eli’s father creates a fury around town. A botched mission for blood causes him to perform a shocking act of preservation for his ward at the cost of himself. Now alone, Eli begins to lean heavy on Oskar and forces him to make increasingly adult choices.
The artistic content is rich and powerful and is handled with a master’s pen. Dialog is sparse and profoundly important when it occurs. As in all good films, there are no fluff scenes. Every shot has meaning; every word has weight. Even the camera work is simple, yet profound and envelopes the audience in the ambience. The atmosphere is bleak and ethereal. Oskar and Eli are a reflection of their world. The innocence of their relationship and the contrasting depth of their chilling psyche play perfectly into this world.
This does not fall into the traps of many modern horror films. There are no obvious metaphors or plot devices. While there is a defined narrative, the subplots and the implications add layers upon layers of depth. It is difficult to formulate words to describe all the directions this film will take you. The lead to this cause is the emotional, human investment placed in the character of Oskar. Before Eli even appears, we are deeply invested in Oskar. Every blow he takes on the schoolyard is felt. Every time he unsheathes his knife and heads into the night we are filled with a stomach turning anxiety. This film is such a success because it keeps the human element above the vampire element and can be less visually violent because of the impact each act makes with the audience.
The remake of this film, “Let Me In,” is scheduled for release October 1 by director Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”), starring Chloe Moretz (“Kick Ass“) and Kodi Smit-McPhee (“The Road”) as the lead roles. Early descriptions of the remake have stated an increase in the gore and a faithful scene by scene recreation. The former makes me wonder if this will distract from the power of the original as more gore will distract from the ambience and subplots. The latter I doubt is true in a verbatim sense. There are several scenes in the original I do not believe will go over well with an American audience. Namely the quick flash of nudity that brings to question Eli’s true gender (or even the implied nature of it touched on at various points) and the bedroom scene between the two main characters. Things I am excited about are the casting of two excellent actors for the lead rolls. After watching “The Road,” Kodi should easily be able to handle Oskar’s disassociated nature (my biggest concern). If Reeves can bring enough of the style into his remake while balancing the tastes of an American audience he will have a home run.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2009)
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
The first in a series of film adaptations of posthumously published Steig Larsson novels, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is the classic suspenseful murder mystery. Hardened journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is hired to investigate the decades old missing young woman from the wealthy Vanger family after being forced to resign from his position amid political scandal. Stalked from afar by a computer hacker and digital spy, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the two become partners in the race to uncover the secret behind the disappearance for their wealthy benefactor.
Dripping with mood and suspense, the film does not shy away from the darker aspects of the novel. In fact the literal translation of the Swedish title is “Men Who Hate Women” and it is justified. Lisbeth is a careful balance of outward darkness, necessary brutality, and inner vulnerability. The film at times goes overboard in the grotesque violence, but it also serves as the vehicle for the mystery with in the mystery that is Lisbeth. The relationship between the two main characters slowly evolves into a romance juxtaposed with the brutality of the relationship of Lisbeth to her court appointed guardian.
Clues to the resolution of the main narrative come in the forms of biblical and forensic clues leading to the inevitable reveal that ends up being a slight let down. So much of the film is the suspense and mood that the resolution breaks the image by snapping things back into a plot based context.
Oplev does a superb job in setting the mood of the film via the camera. The lights are dialed down to increase the seediness of the story’s world. The music is ratcheted up to enhance the brutality. The pacing builds up to the climax and then is sent rushing to the unavoidable end. This world seems separate from ours and yet contains the necessary aspects to snatch our attention. Perhaps the best aspect is that the main plot almost becomes the subplot behind the intrigue that is Lisbeth.
Both actors embrace their role and provide stunning performances; Noomi especially. The scenes that she is not in ache for her to return to the focus, not because of the weakness of the rest of the film, but on the strength of her performance.
The remake of this film is scheduled for release in December of 2011 by David Fincher (“Fight Club,” “Zodiac”). Daniel Craig (“Quantum of Solace,” “Munich”) and Rooney Mara (“Youth in Revolt,” “The Social Network”) are slated as the main characters. I have to agree with many other initial responses to this remake; I’m not sure where Fincher is going to go with this. He certainly has the chops to remake this in the same vein, but I again doubt that several scenes are going to make the cut for a mainstream audience. Bring the mood, but not the intrigue? I’m not convinced it is going to work as well. At least as consolation, the original casting did not come true. Early reports had Nicolas Cage as the male lead. We all remember what happens when he stars in a remake. “Wicker Man,” I see you trying to leave out the back door. Daniel Craig is a far better choice and embodies the acting style of the original film. I have not seen Rooney in enough films to comment, but the actress she is replacing on surface appearances would not fit the character. Yet she pulled it off stunningly. There is still hope.
Given the choice to view one of these two remakes I would cast my vote with “Let Me In.” Both originals are well worth your time. While I will definitely see “Let Me In” in the theaters, I am on the fence with Tattoo. Too many unanswered questions this far out from the release date to be insistent on its merits.