SPOILER WARNING: Book Vs. Film is a column comparing books to the film adaptations they spawn, often discussing them on a plot-point-by-plot-point basis. This column is meant largely for people who’ve already been through one version, and want to know how the other compares. As a result, major, specific spoilers for both versions abound, often including dissection of how they end. Proceed with appropriate caution.
• Book: Låt Den Rätte Komma In, John Ajvide Lindqvist, 2004
• Film: Let The Right One In, adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist, directed by Tomas Alfredson, 2008
Some people think it’s better to read a book before seeing the film it’s based on, because the way films focus on surfaces—facial expressions, rather than thoughts; actions, rather than internalized motivations—can be confusing; getting the full version of what the characters want in advance can make the story of a movie easier to understand. On the other hand, books are almost always more complicated than movies, which generally have to cut a lot out of an average 300-page story to get it down to an average 90-minute runtime. So reading the book first can set up a lot of expectations that the movie just isn’t going to carry out.
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Me, I think it depends so thoroughly on the book and the movie that you have to take things on a case-by-case basis. I’d usually rather read the book first, but I never would have gotten through the slow bits of Watership Down as a kid if I hadn’t seen the movie first, and realized what a fantastic story was waiting for me on the other side of that early-book slog through a nighttime forest. I kind of wish I’d seen Jumper before reading it, so I could be sure that my irritation with the movie’s underdeveloped antagonists and shallow, selfish creep of a protagonist was a pure reaction to the film, and not just a result of my disappointment with its utter failure to address the book’s actual content.
And with Let The Right One In, the highly praised Swedish vampire film that stemmed from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s highly praised Swedish vampire novel, I’m immensely glad I saw the film first. Taken solely as a book adaptation, the film might be considered anemic, for all the characters and subplots and characterization and terrifying action it hacks out. Taken entirely on its own, though, it’s a just-about-perfect little movie, an eerie, atmospheric, but non-gimmicky mix of horror film and love story. All the extra material in the book seems like a bonus, a set of DVD deleted scenes that aren’t really germane to the story, but provide some interesting extra depth. The movie is more sweet and sad than scary—the trailer below actually gives a good sense of its tone—while the book is less tonally refined. It has more going on, but at the loss of some of the clarity that Lindqvist found in the screenplay for the film version.
Let The Right One In takes its name from a Morrissey song quoted on the title page for the book’s final section: “Let the right one in / let the old dreams die / let the wrong ones go / They cannot do what you want them to do.” (For its first-edition English translation, St. Martin’s Press went with the title Let Me In, but that was subsequently changed back to the original title for the movie tie-in edition of the book.) That quote sums up the story of the protagonist, Oskar (first-time actor Kåre Hedebrant), a bullied, isolated kid who makes friends with Eli (Lina Leandersson), who appears to be a girl about his age who’s recently moved into his apartment complex. Then he gradually learns that she isn’t what she appears to be, on several levels—she isn’t a she (more on that later), she isn’t his age, and she isn’t human. She’s a vampire, and not the glamorous, seductive variety that’s become popular again in recent decades. (She doesn’t even sparkle in sunlight.) She usually smells like death, she starts looking decayed after a mere day without blood, she kills everyone she feeds on—and usually messily, first tearing open their throats to get at the blood—which invariably gets all over her, further limiting how glam she can look—then snapping their necks to ensure they don’t come back as vampires too. She’s lonely and plaintive, but she’s also unabashedly a monster and a murderer. On the other hand, she’s the best friend Oskar has, and the one person most suited to see him through life. In keeping with the lyric, he has to come to terms with what she is and does, and shut out the rest of humanity in the process, if he wants her as a soulmate.
That theme is considerably more sharply pronounced in the book than in the film. Movie-Oskar is 12 years old, a pale, thin kid with an odd pageboy haircut and almost albino skin, hesitant and often silent, but soulful. Book-Oskar is a far more troubled and less appealing character. He’s a tubby, sullen 13-year-old—just a year’s difference, but enough to make him a teenager instead of a child. He has physical and emotional problems—he wets his pants so frequently that he’s carved a hole in a piece of foam and wears it around his penis to absorb the urine so no one will know. (He calls this “the Pissball.”) He gets spontaneous nosebleeds. He’s a frequent shoplifter and binge eater who at one point steals a coat full of candy and then obsessive-compulsively lines it all up at home and works his way through it mechanically in one sitting. (Which is why the bullies on his case call him Piggy and frequently corner him and make him squeal like a pig, which doesn’t make as much sense in the film.) He’s a suck-up in school (even he thinks he “talks too much”), and a mama’s boy who apparently spends so much time at home watching TV and eating with his mother that she becomes frantic when he meets Eli and is no longer reliably home for every show they used to watch together.
But most significantly, he’s presented from the start as the kind of person who would take up with a killer: He’s morbid and murder-obsessed, with an early penchant for bloody mayhem. He keeps a scrapbook of news clippings about grisly killings, which is briefly glimpsed in the movie, but in the book, amounts to an obsession. (He even thinks, in a bit of heavy-handed foreshadowing, that the killer pictured in one article doesn’t look crazed, and “could have been anybody. Could be me in twenty years.”) In the film, he first meets Eli when he’s taking his frustrations out on a tree, stabbing it and pretending it’s one of his enemies. But in the book, the same fantasy is much deeper and more graphic:
Oskar walked down the hill past the printing company, then turned onto the path into the forest. The weight in his belly was gone, replaced with an intoxicating sense of anticipation. On his way to the forest the fantasy had gripped him and now it felt like reality.
He saw the world through the eyes of a murderer, or so much of a murderer’s eyes as his thirteen-year-old’s imagination could muster. A beautiful world. A world he controlled, a world that trembled in the face of his actions.
He walked along the forest path looking for Jonny Forsberg.
The earth shall drink his blood.
It was starting to get dark and the trees closed around him like a silent crowd, following his smallest movements with trepidation, fearful that one of them was the intended target. But the killer moved through them, past them; he had already caught sight of his prey.
Jonny Forsberg was standing at the top of a hill some fifty meters from the trail, hands on his hips, a grin pasted on his face. Thought it was going to be business as usual. That he would force Oskar to the ground, hold his nose, and force pine needles and moss into his mouth, or some such thing.
But this time he was mistaken. It wasn’t Oskar who was walking toward him, it was the Murderer, and the Murderer’s hand closed hard around the handle of the knife, preparing himself.
The Murderer walked with slow dignified steps over to Jonny Forsberg, looked him in the eyes, and said “Hi Jonny.”
“Hello Piggy. Are you allowed out this late?”
“The Murderer pulled out his knife. And lunged…
He thrust and thrust and thrust. After the first blow Jonny had realized this wasn’t going to be like those other times. With blood gushing from a deep cut on his cheek, he tried to escape, but the Murderer was faster. With a couple of quick moves he sliced away the tendons at the back of the knees and Jonny fell down, lay writhing in the moss, begging for mercy.
But the Murderer wasn’t going to relent. Jonny was screaming… like a pig… when the Murderer threw himself over him and let the earth drink his blood.
One stab for what you did to me in the bathroom today. One for when you tricked me into playing knuckle poker. And I’m cutting your lips out for everything nasty you’ve ever said to me.
Jonny was bleeding from every orifice and could no longer say or do anything mean. He was long since dead. Oskar finished by puncturing his glassy eyeballs, whack whack, then got up and regarded his work.
Large pieces of the rotting, fallen trees that had represented Jonny’s body had been hacked away and the tree trunk was full of perforations. A number of wood chips were scattered under the healthy tree that had been Jonny when he was still standing.
His right hand, the knife hand, was bleeding. There was a small cut right next to his wrist; the blade must have slipped while he was stabbing. Not the ideal knife for this purpose. He licked his hand, cleaning the wound with his tongue. It was Jonny’s blood he was tasting.
Not only does Oskar revel in pretending to hack off a bully’s lips and poke out his eyes, but he’s delighted when, the next day, he learns that a boy about his age was butchered in a nearby forest by an unknown assailant, at about the same time Oskar was off in the woods playing his Murderer game. For a while, he hopes that he himself somehow magically caused this gruesome death. When the bullies strike again, he goes back into the woods to play the same game, this time focusing harder and more specifically on his foe, figuring that whatever process of sympathetic magic killed the boy he never met just needs honing in order to get the kids he really wants to kill. He doesn’t entirely believe this, but he plays it out anyway, living in hope.
Unbeknownst to him, of course, the other killing has nothing to do with him; the murderer is an older man named Håkan (played in the movie by Per Ragnar), Eli’s servant and helper. He kills people and drains them, bringing her the blood in containers to minimize the risk she faces when hunting; he poses as her father to help her fit in, since she looks like a child young enough to not be able to live on her own. And he’s one of the movie’s big mysteries, since we see relatively little of him, and hear relatively little from him. The movie treats him bluntly and abruptly; he says nothing before heading off to his first murder, and we just see him preparing, silently and expertly gathering his tools. He seems calm and efficient, used to what he does and workmanlike about it.
There’s much, much more about him and his profound anxieties and miseries in the book, and what Lindqvist reveals about him seriously alters his character. In the film, he’s clearly in love with Eli, though seemingly in the unrequited Renfieldy way of so much vampire fiction; her vampiric nature seems more relevant to the relationship than anything else about her. In the book, it’s spelled out graphically and in detail that he’s a serial pedophile who’s had to move from place to place to avoid persecution and capture, and who met Eli when she walked into his life and took control. She lets him look at her naked body, or even touch her and sleep in a bed with her, in exchange for his killing-and-blood-fetching duties, though she doesn’t permit actual sexual contact. While he constantly wants more than he gets, he’s grateful to be near her—someone who fulfills at least some of his urges, while staying in complete control of the relationship, such that what happens between them isn’t really his fault. Further, he doesn’t have to feel like a child molester, since she’s actually older than him.
Not that this prevents him seeking gratification in other ways, which Lindqvist isn’t remotely shy about portraying. Håkan hires child prostitutes for bathroom blowjobs. Sneaking into a boys’ locker room at a public pool to catch and kill a victim (this scene is in the movie), he sees some kids changing, and helplessly masturbates as they bend over, exposing their anuses. (This scene isn’t.) The book spends a good deal of time inside his head, exploring his obsessions and his his self-hatred, though more over the murders than the sex. While he isn’t proud of his pedophilia, he agonizes over killing, and fights with Eli about it in long, sad dialogues where she exhibits no sympathy over his desperation. Eventually, his guilt over the murders—which again, he approaches dispassionately in the film—leads him to outsized attempts to compensate by trying to give away wads of money to help people. The book also explores his lurid feelings for Eli, which have little to nothing to do with her being a vampire. Håkan is also the center of one of the hugest differences between the book and the film, but we’ll get to that in a bit too.
In the same way that the book versions of Oskar and Håkan are both revealed in a lot more depth—and are both shown to be far uglier and creepier than the movie’s comparatively sentimental versions—Eli is more exposed in the book, literally as well as figuratively. Of the three, she remains most of a mystery, though some segments are written from her point of view, and chunks of her past—particularly how she first became a vampire—are revealed wholesale when she and Oskar kiss and she passes memories to him. Most significantly, though… there’s an oblique scene in the film which about half the people I’ve discussed it with either missed, or just didn’t understand. At one point, Oskar sees Eli changing, and catches a quick look at her naked crotch. Instead of a vagina, he sees a scarred, mutilated, shriveled mass. This isn’t quite a Crying Game-level shock; Eli tells Oskar early on in both book and film that she isn’t a girl, and while it’s possible to interpret that line as “I’m an inhuman thing” rather than “I’m a boy,” the seeds of the idea have already been planted. The film presents this as a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, unexplained but symbolic of how the Eli-Oskar relationship really isn’t based on sex or even conventional romance, so much as desperate mutual need that replaces ordinary relationships. (Again: “Let the old dreams die / let the wrong ones go / They cannot do what you want them to do.”) The book goes into detail about when and how Eli was castrated, and from that point on, the text calls Eli “he” rather than “she.” (I’ve kept “she” because my image of her is so clearly defined by the film, where she’s portrayed by a girl, and seen as a girl throughout, in spite of that moment of revelation.)
Also in the book, it’s clear that part of Håkan’s obsession with Eli is because Eli is really a boy—his lust object of choice—but “pure,” without genitals. And when Oskar catches that glimpse of Eli’s crotch, he doesn’t see a scar, he sees smooth, featureless skin, like that of a doll; the wound has long healed, emphasizing Eli’s inhuman nature and remove from anything as worldly and messy and human as sex. That said, like an animal, she has to kill to eat, though the book doesn’t much get into her feelings on that. Her POV chapters are dispassionate and calm, even movie-like, emphasizing her actions rather than her thoughts. From her, readers learn a lot more about the physiology of being a vampire—for instance, that she can “think her teeth sharp” when she’s ready to feed, or that she grows membranes between her sides and her arms when she wants to fly, or that her heart can slow down to about four beats a minute, or what sunlight feels like to a vampire—than the emotional state of murder, which Eli shrugs off as necessary and not particularly troublesome. Her alienness makes her a little more off-putting than her movie-avatar: Leandersson plays her as sad, isolated, and a little lost, and given that she’s a pretty, wide-eyed, pained-looking little girl, it’s easy to sympathize with her in spite of what she does. But even given the book’s emphasis on her look of decay between feedings, and her rotting smell—which the film implies is because she hasn’t fed recently, though in the book it seems to be because she doesn’t wash or change her clothes often, because such human niceties just don’t occur to her until Oskar complains—she isn’t nearly as unpleasant as Håkan and Oskar.
And yet the story told in the movie is the same one told in the book, with much the same specific dialogue, just with much of the graphicness replaced by melancholy, and all the busy-headed chapters full of thinking and worrying replaced by an oppressive silence. While the book has a lot more character details, and a lot more going on with characters whittled down or removed from the film entirely, the basic plot is the same, and the scenes appearing in the film are virtually all translated very directly from the book. (I tend to associate this kind of exactitude with authors who adapt their own work for the screen. It doesn’t always happen—authors-turned-screenwriters are just as subject as any writers to the pressure from directors, producers, and actors who want to put their own stamp on a work, make it more commercial or accessible, or get themselves bigger and better roles—but the tightest adaptations I can think of were all scripted by the original authors.)
So most of the other differences between film and book are just cases of additional info cut from the story to streamline it down to its basic elements. For instance:
• One fairly large excised subplot revolves around a boy named Tommy, who’s a little older than Oskar and has some sympathy for him, but realizes there’s no point in intervening on his behalf, since he’s just the kind of kid who’s going to get bullied, no matter what. He’s one of the closest things Oskar has to a friend. He also has a fairly extensive plotline of his own, having to do with his refusal to come to terms with his mother’s new boyfriend, a local cop caught up with various Eli-related crimes. The two clash, with Tommy starting a fire in church in front of the man, as a joke, and stealing a trophy from him out of a submerged resentment. Eventually, Tommy has an encounter with Eli where she pays him for blood, effectively revealing her nature to him. Shortly thereafter, he has a much more terrifying encounter with Håkan.
• In the film, Håkan dies by letting Eli feed on him in the hospital after his horrific experience with the acid, and then falling out a window, presumably intentionally. In the book, this happens—but he’s been infected by her vampirism, so he revives in the morgue, eats the face off a morgue attendant, and then runs off to haunt the nearby woods, spawning a frantic manhunt by the police, who assume he somehow survived his fall. Later, he encounters Eli, and while at this point, he’s a mindless, faceless monster, he still manages to knock her unconscious, strip her, and try to rape her. Then he attacks Tommy as well. This is just one of the many ways in which the book is more graphic, more grotesque, and more of a conventional horror novel than the movie is a conventional horror movie. It’s also the biggest plot departure between the two versions; a major chunk of the second half of the book is devoted to undead Håkan, who doesn’t appear in the film at all.
• The book gets into a lot of heads and offers a lot of different POVs: Tommy’s, Eli’s, Håkan’s, Oskar’s, Jonny Forsberg’s, Tommy’s mother’s and his would-be stepfather’s… One section is even seen from the POV of a squirrel that spots vampiric Håkan in the woods. The book also gets into the heads of a number of the film’s minor characters, including Jocke, whom Eli kills, and Virginia, whom she tries to kill and instead accidentally turns into a vampire. In the film, Virginia seems to realize what’s happening to her, and she makes the decision to kill herself. In the book, her sequences are far more detailed, and lead to further revelations about vampire anatomy and nature: She develops a knot of brain cells in her chest which seem to be conscious when she isn’t, and which control a lot of her behavior. She finds that all food has become unappealing or openly disgusting, except blood—even her own, which leads to a harrowing night spent cutting herself and licking up her own blood. She instinctively discovers the rules of vampiredom, including needing an invitation to enter a place she’s never been. And much as Håkan does, she spends many pages debating over whether she’s capable of murder, and what it will do to her. She’s much more nuanced a character in the book.
• Similarly, the book gets into the history and life of her sometimes-lover Lacke, the man who interrupts Eli while she’s feeding, which leads to Virginia becoming a vampire. He has a number of chapters where his complicated relationship with and intentions for Virginia are spelled out. A bare-bones version of this information is condensed neatly into a speech he gives her at the hospital in the film.
• There are even chapters from an omniscient point of view, illustrating things going on in the larger world, like the fear over a Soviet sub that runs aground on the shoreline, and the ongoing reaction to Håkan’s murders. Lindqvist uses these to make some interesting observational points about news cycles and what bad news does to a society, as the locals get wrought up and excited over the ghastly murders, then wrought up in a less gleefully morbid, more actually fearful, and more dangerous way when the killings aren’t resolved quickly and satisfactorily with an arrest. There’s a particularly neat passage in which a rough composite sketch of Håkan appears in the paper, and every man in the area who looks remotely like him is “subjected to long, scrutinizing looks” and goes home to give those same looks to the mirror, wondering whether changing hairstyles would abate suspicion, or just cause more.
• Oskar’s father also becomes more of a character in the book, though through Oskar’s eyes rather than as a POV source. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the scene between them in the film, where Oskar is spending time with his estranged dad and a man shows up, and Oskar becomes sullen and withdrawn; it seemed to me in the film that this was possibly his dad’s lover, and that the scene was meant to illustrate that Oskar had a role model in his life that would show him that relationships between two men were normal, priming him to better accept his relationship with Eli even after he learns the truth. Instead, the book makes it clear that the man who comes over is just a friend—but his presence starts Oskar’s dad in on social drinking, which Oskar knows will, by the end of the evening, turn him into a being Oskar thinks of as “the Werewolf”—a needy, sloppy, demanding, weepy man who will want to talk about his emotions rather than engaging in quiet, distanced bonding. Essentially, his father is an alcoholic, and Oskar hates the drunken version of him. That’s all the scene is trying to say.
• There’s a little more about Jonny Forsberg in the book—not a lot, but enough to make it clear that his big brother’s attack on Oskar at the end of the film isn’t just revenge for hitting Jonny (or “Conny,” in the film) with a stick. In the book, as in the film, Eli prompts Oskar to fight back against Jonny and the bullies. In the book, he does, and things just keep escalating; the bullies hold him over the edge of a train platform as the train is coming, nearly killing him; Oskar retaliates by walking into his school at night and setting their desks on fire, in the process (unbeknownst to him) destroying a photo album that’s the one keepsake Jonny and his brother have of their departed dad. The attack in the pool is born more of the brother’s personal fury than revenge for Jonny’s clipped ear. It also involves several other doped-up hoodlums; they don’t just start a fire outside to distract the adult in charge and get him out of the room, they lure him away, club him unconscious, and set someone to guard him. There’s more of a sense from the start that they aren’t thoughtless bullies; they really are planning to just outright kill Oskar.
• Another lengthy sequence not in the film, maybe because it seems redundant with what happens later with Virginia: Eli finds an old woman alone at home and talks her way into her house. She lulls her to sleep, seemingly using some sort of mental power on her, and starting to tell her a fable that becomes the first part of Eli’s own backstory. Eventually, she starts to feed on the old woman, but it turns out that the woman is dying of cancer and is full of morphine. The “sick blood” and the medication make Eli ill, and she flees. Apparently she tries to burn the woman and the apartment, but she doesn’t do a very good job, and the woman—now a vampire—staggers outside to finish burning, either because of the sun or because Eli doused her with gasoline. The fact that the woman’s autopsy confirms that she was already dead when she ran outside to burn further baffles the much-baffled authorities (who spend most of the book in a state of frantic confusion over all the things which don’t add up), but other than the first glimpses of Eli’s history, it doesn’t add much to the story as a whole. What it does, weirdly, is further an image of Eli as a really clumsy predator who really does need Håkan’s help to get through life. Through the course of book and film, she only manages to take down one victim on her own—Jocke—and even so, Håkan has to dispose of the body. By the end of the book, she’s left behind a trail of three other victims who all became vampires, none of whom she intended to leave functional. Clearly she needs a Renfield for more than friendship.
• Something distinctly not in the movie: Oskar’s first confused encounter with pornography, in the form of a stroke magazine he finds in his apartment basement, in a storage room where older boys hang out. Contemplating an image of a vagina and comparing it to “talk he had heard, graffiti he had read” (not to mention sex ed) he’s baffled about where the “hole” could be, and what people are supposed to do with it. In a way, his bafflement and his unpreparedness for adult sexuality set up his baffled confusion as to what Eli’s lack of genitals mean to their relationship, and further emphasize that while he’s playing at “going steady” with Eli, he doesn’t really know what a girlfriend is, or what to do with one. Their relationship is simpler than that. As such, it stands in direct opposition to Eli’s relationship with Håkan, who is constantly wanting and demanding adult things she can’t or won’t give him. Comparisons between Håkan and Oskar as partners for Eli start early on, with scenes from Håkan’s anxious, miserable hunt for a victim for Eli interspersed with scenes from Oskar’s coldblooded “killing” of Jonny, excerpted above. It’s heavily implied that Oskar is just more suitable a partner for Eli. They’re on the same page about violence (necessary, potentially pleasurable), about the rest of humanity (disposable betrayers and disappointers), about sex (not really an issue), about maturity (while she’s more than 200 years old, Eli says she’s never really been able to progress mentally beyond her apparent age), and about companionship (the one thing they both most lack). Håkan spells this out himself, jealously listening to the two of them together: “Their high voices, laughter. A lightness he could never achieve. His was the leaden seriousness, the demands, the desire.”
• In the book, it’s entirely evident that when Eli and Oskar first meet, she intends to kill him and drink his blood; she’s actually got her fangs out and next to his neck when he strokes her cheek, mistaking her closeness for a hug, and wanting to touch her. She pulls back, puzzled and a little upset, but their relationship seems to stem from this moment. In the film, this never happens; she seems to recognize him as a kindred spirit from their first meeting.
• Finally, Oskar’s adjustment to Eli’s nature takes much longer in the book than in the film. It’s a source of as much frustration and debate for him as Håkan’s murders are to Håkan. As morbid and murderous a child as Oskar is, he has a hard time coming to terms with the fact that Eli is a supernatural killer, and it unnerves him. So does the fact that she’s a he: “They had kissed and slept in the same bed… he didn’t get it. That he could somehow accept that she was a vampire, but the idea that she was somehow a boy, that could be harder. He knew the word. Fag. Fucking fag. Stuff that Jonny said.” But in the end, in the book, he doesn’t just distract Lacke at a crucial moment, he attacks him, helping Eli take him out. And the final scenes come much as they do in the film: He’s set upon by Jonny’s brother at the pool. What comes next is only obliquely mentioned, as a brief flashback, as Tommy’s cop stepfather muses over the crime scene. Oskar’s decision to go with Eli is never discussed. It’s presented as a fait accompli—Oskar at the train station with a lot of luggage.
The sweet scene of Eli and Oskar tapping out the word “kiss” in Morse code in that final scene isn’t in the book. It’s one of very few moments in the movie that don’t come directly from the novel. What changes there are seem designed to soften one or the other of them as individuals, and make their relationship sweeter and more tragic, as they try to make accommodations for each other. For instance, in the film, Eli actually tries Oskar’s candy, then throws it up. In the book, she just refuses it outright. Whether she’s trying to please him or momentarily hoping to fit in isn’t clear, but either way, she’s trying in the film in a way she largely isn’t in the book. And in the film, she leaves one of the kids at the pool alive, as if to acknowledge that he wasn’t at fault in the attack. Which shows a discernment and humanity that she doesn’t necessarily exhibit in the book, though it isn’t an issue in that scene, since that character isn’t present for the attack.
I realize this comparison may make the film sound treacly or cloying. It isn’t. While it may seem, as I said, relatively sentimental, that’s only by comparison to the book’s focus on child rape, self-mutilation, and gory death. The corners have been beveled away, but what’s left in the film is still the story of a harried, frightened, friendless child finding that the person most like him in all the world is a bestial, inhuman creature who smells of the grave and sucks the blood out of innocent victims. It’s a dark story no matter how it’s told. The film just tells it with less beach-blanket luridness, and more of an airless stillness that reminds me greatly of Guillermo del Toro’s terrific ghost story The Devil’s Backbone.
The film also comes with an unsettlingly claustrophobic sense of the confinement and chill of a Swedish winter. Vampire stories, of necessity, take place mostly in the dark, but darkness in a horror film has rarely seemed as overbearing and chilly as it does in this film. The book has detail; the film has a stronger sense of texture and weight, and a deeper set of emotions.
So. Book, or Film? I enjoyed the book a lot. It’s pulpy in subject matter, but not in style; it’s a solid translation that doesn’t read as flat or thudding, the way so many translations of foreign-language books do. There’s a lot more excitement and action and depth. But in the end, if I had to choose one, it’d actually be the film, which reads to me as a tightened, refined rather than eviscerated version of the same story. Coming to it first made a lot of difference, and knowing the author was behind the screenplay helped as well. But where the book is a well-told but conventional horror story, the film is more unconventional. Its long silences and chilly tone summon up dread better than the book’s grotesque descriptions of pedophile vampires. A year from now, I imagine it’ll be the version that sticks with me.
Coming up on Book Vs. Film: