Let The Right One In

If you want to hear a story told two different ways, read the book and watch the movie. When Let The Right One In was made into a bleak, neatly told vampire movie set in a run-down suburb of 1980s Stockholm last year, it cleaned up on the festival circuit and had its DVD screener bolt across the torrentsphere. Ironically, the latter probably robbed it of part of the box office it deserves in the wake of the feeble-minded allegories offered by summer blockbuster Twilight.

So, if you want to watch the movie, it’s now easy enough to find. The book is equally accessible to agoraphobics, provided they have a fully-functioning Amazon account, and comes similarly recommended.

The book treads the same themes and plot points as the film and even has an identical denouement, but the story is handed back to the voice that first imagined it: former stand-up and street magician John Ajvide Lindqvist. He’s also a Morrissey enthusiast (the title is derived from a Smiths lyric) who doesn’t shy away from topics like homosexuality, child abuse and the loneliness of growing up. Whether he’s condoning or condemning all of the above is a debate best left for people who like shouting at a wall: both on screen and in print, his text is allowed breathe its own life, which is slightly ironic given his predilection for the undead.

Lindqvist’s novel is pacier than its adaptation but also longer than the film version. In the movie, some characters have their stories clipped before reaching an identical fate, while others disappear entirely. Knowing how it ends initially makes these culled details seem like extraneous information when you read about them for the first time, which is a credit to the world Lindqvist has created, its strong cast of characters and the story he tells.

Luckily he’s Swedish, so the film didn’t have to clear an assault course of nervy, delusional mavens worrying about its visceral and at times unnerving subject matter to get made, but the most notable omission from the film is still an attempted rape of a child by the tale’s one paedophile character. This event and the ditched subplot it’s from briefly transports the book into zombie territory: perhaps Lindqvist didn’t realise that the world he’d created was unreal and disconcerting enough. If anything, the film benefits from its absence, becoming less a genre piece and more a meditative study of the warring agendas and contingent goals of its characters.

The film itself is so artfully, minimally shot that it both works on a budget but also emphasise the stoicism of everyone involved. If anything, that quality is reinforced by the book: here, the characters’ thoughts are described to us through internal monologue as it’s written in the third person. However, like the film, they let their actions speak louder than their words. It’s an existentialist dream, portrayed as a nightmare.

Watching the film before reading the book is a good idea. If you become infatuated by what you see on screen and want to spend more time there beyond a second viewing, the book is an invitation to be guided round by the author rather than the director, see some new sights and have what you already know described to you by a different voice, one that feels empathy for every character on the page. The back story missing from the film is kept to a minimum, serving as a case in point: it’s not essential, so you’re only ever told enough to feel compelled, but also slightly disorientated by it. In either format, Let The Right One In works as a slow-acting poison, delivered like a killer vampiric lovebite on anyone who takes the time to fully soak it up.