Let the Right One In Is a Humanistic Vampire Drama of Subtle Horrors and Redemptions

TV Reviews Let the Right One In
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Let the Right One In Is a Humanistic Vampire Drama of Subtle Horrors and Redemptions

If you saw the 2008 film Let the Right One In, it is a virtual certainty that you remember it. You may also, like me, remember where you were when you saw it. It was a striking work, full of the quiet Swedish angst so familiar from that region’s noir but overlaid with an unsettling story of a child vampire and the 12-year-old boy who befriends her. It never shied from the horrific savagery of what that life entailed, but it did find something moving and even sentimental in its two young characters. It was a film that managed to wear many hats amid a dominant tone of winter melancholy, and drew its strength from an almost zealous commitment to examining the isolation of those who are very much like us except in one critical way. It was also a massive success, winning a slew of awards and bringing director Tomas Alfredson to wider public attention, leading to his terrific adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy three years later. An American version, Let Me In, was made in 2010, and was another success for future The Batman director Matt Reeves.

Now, in 2022, the “franchise” is coming to television courtesy of Showtime, and developed by Andrew Hinderaker. This version of Let the Right One In (they’ve gone back to the original title) retains some of the main ingredients of the original: a girl vampire (Eleanor, played by Madison Taylor Baez), a bullied boy who becomes her friend (Isaiah, Ian Foreman), and the girl’s father (Mark, Demian Bichir) whose job it is to protect her and do whatever it takes to keep her fed, including murder.

The biggest difference here stems from the medium itself. With a full eight episodes to fill, a sad examination of the central dynamic isn’t quite enough, and so the show becomes a sort of crime thriller instead. There’s a wealthy man, reminiscent perhaps of your least favorite Sackler, who made his money in pharmaceuticals and is now desperately pursuing a cure for vampirism to save his son. Mark, Eleanor’s father, is himself on a similar mission, clinging to the belief that if he can find the person who bit his daughter, that person will have antibodies that could potentially reverse her “disease.” That’s what brings them back to New York City, where a slew of recent murders checks off several boxes for Mark—a food source for Eleanor, cover for his own murders, and, due to the sheer brutality, the possible presence of the ur-vampire he sees as his salvation.

By necessity, this is a more terrestrial story than the ethereal tones of the prior versions, but if engaging in the world at large is a price of admission to the longer arcs of television, the show doesn’t necessarily suffer for it. It’s different, and perhaps in some ways less poetic, but what it lacks in otherworldly power it makes up for in entertainment. This is a fun show to watch, and while I stop short of calling it a great show, it nonetheless achieves more than enough dramatic momentum to be worthy of a good, gory binge.

Luckily, the metaphor still works; in every moment, we live with the characters as they make impossible choices when forced to confront the world’s suffering. To preserve his daughter’s life, and leave open the possibility of a cure, Mark must commit murders himself to sate her appetite for blood. We ask ourselves the silent question: Would he have been better off to just kill her? Would we be able to do that to our own children? He’s a religious man, and as part of this horrific bargain, he knows he’s sacrificed any meaningful relationship with God, but still he prays and begs for guidance and forgiveness. Bichir does heavyweight work as the character who simply cannot fail if the show is to succeed, and commands a kind of gravitas and even humor among his constant state of desperation that anchors and propels the story.

The problem for Mark is that the budding friendship between Eleanor and Isaiah, who share a sense of standing apart from their fellow humans, inevitably brings Isaiah’s mother, Naomi (Anika Noni Rose) into the fold. She’s a homicide detective (one of the plot decisions that felt a little too easy, for what it’s worth), and as her suspicion grows, so does the bond between the children. As this heads for an unhappy place, tension builds, and the show’s weaknesses—some stilted, cliché dialogue, a few too-convenient twists—vanish behind the intensity of each successive climax.

This show will not equal the artistic impact of the original film, but it retains its meditative qualities while upping the horror and the narrative intrigue, and it may be the case that it attracts more American viewers in the end. It’s a win for Showtime at a time when they badly needed one, and unlike the vampire at your doorstep, you can invite it into your life without fear. We are alone, but Let the Right One In is at its best when it reveals that we can be alone together.

Let the Right One In premieres Sunday, October 9th on Showtime.

Shane Ryan is a writer and editor. You can find more of his writing and podcasting at Apocalypse Sports, and follow him on Twitter here .

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