Reviews · TV

‘Let the Right One In’ Could’ve Just Stayed Dead

Showtime’s ten-episode series aims to recapture some of the horror and intrigue of this new classic story, but fails on most levels.
Let The Right One In Series
By  · Published on October 10th, 2022

John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel Let the Right One In is a disturbing story that, along with a child vampire, also includes an adult predator. Tomas Alfredson’s acclaimed Swedish film adaptation loses some of the book’s seedier elements in favor of an artistic and dark story of loneliness and love. Matt Reeves’ remake, Let Me In, streamlined Alfredson’s new classic for American audiences. A new Showtime reimagining marks the third on-screen adaptation of the captivating story, but unfortunately, the latest iteration is mostly an unrecognizable slog.

Penny Dreadful writer Andrew Hinderaker created the new Let the Right One In, a ten-episode series that bears only the scantest resemblance to any version of its source material. This time around, a chef named Mark (Demián Bichir) kills to feed his vampiric daughter, Ellie (Madison Taylor Baez), in New York City, but it’s much more than the location of the story that’s changed. The series not only gives Mark and Ellie a tragic family backstory but also overloads its screentime with multiple previously unseen arcs, many of which add little of interest to the story.

Grace Gummer plays an estranged genius doing experiments on primates to save her vampire brother’s life. Anika Noni Rose plays an NYPD homicide detective who happens to be the paranoid (though the show presents her conspiratorial thinking as savvy) mother of Ellie’s bullied new friend, Isaiah (Ian Foreman). There’s also a pill on the streets that seems to be dosing addicts with vampire-like abilities. Yeah, this definitely isn’t the Let the Right One In that you know and love.

The show’s greatest mistake is that it cares more about plot than mood, pivoting away from the aching loneliness, profound sacrifice, and all-too-human bloodlust that made the original compelling in favor of a story that’s bogged down by its own lackluster narratives. It also, unfortunately, suffers from some mediocre scripts. Even among procedurals, the so-called banter between Rose’s Naomi and her detective partner feels like borderline self-parody, and it’s impossible not to get hung up on why this project would ever choose to have cops doing speculative walk-and-talks in the first place.

If one actor seems stilted, it could be a casting problem. But if multiple actors, including Tony-winner Rose and former Oscar nominee Bichir – two tremendously talented performers – seem to miss the mark, there are script or directorial issues at hand. Bichir salvages some of his screentime, and the series’ focus on a parent’s selfless love and the toll it takes is perhaps its best quality. That is, besides young star Madison Taylor Baez, who is far and away the highlight of the series. In just her second on-screen role (she also played young Selena in Selena: The Series), Baez is assured and engrossing, always the most interesting subject on screen whenever she appears. Her Ellie is less aloof than past versions, but if the six episodes available for review are any indication, she’s just as capable of dark deeds.

It’s tough to parse this story from the indelible versions that came before it, but if viewers come to it cold, unaware that any superior variations of this tale exist, I’m still not sure the story would be successful. With the exception of a backstory episode late in the season that includes some beautifully executed surprises, very little in this story isn’t glaringly obvious. If a man makes a plan to finally show up for his son for the first time in years, you’d better bet he’ll end up stumbling into the exact turn of fate that makes that impossible. If a cop has a bad gut feeling, she’s probably right. If there’s a breakthrough in the lab, you know it’ll have to be tested on humans. Very little here is unpredictable, and the result is a mostly lifeless watch, even stripped of all comparison to past adaptations.

Any saga of a girl vampire with a father who murders to keep her alive is a rich text, but instead of creating an iceberg of a story with its most meaningful parts below the surface, Let the Right One In splashes them in our faces from one moment to the next. It’s a show that explains pretty much everything, and the only glimpses of character interiority we get are via shaded performances by Bichir and Baez that still sometimes shine through despite the lack of ennobling circumstances.

Like a vampire who didn’t ask to be born, Let the Right One In keeps getting resurrected against better judgment, and it seems to be losing more and more of its essence in the process each time. The original text isn’t without its flaws, and its best parts have been translated to screen beautifully twice before. Not only was it never due for a remake, but it really never got one: this story bears so little of the original’s DNA that it may as well just use another title. Despite its title, Let the Right One In mostly deserves to be left out in the cold.

Let The Right One In debuted on Showtime on Friday, October 9th. Watch the series trailer here.

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Valerie Ettenhofer is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, TV-lover, and mac and cheese enthusiast. As a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects, she covers television through regular reviews and her recurring column, Episodes. She is also a voting member of the Critics Choice Association's television and documentary branches. Twitter: @aandeandval (She/her)