While there is a lot of entertainment out there, one of the most significant cultural resurgences this year has been for that of the vampire. From a new season of What We Do in the Shadows that marked a return to form for the show to the recent premiere of the already intriguing Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire, the timeless creature has been given fresh new life once more. It is fitting that we would also get another new take on an old tale with Let the Right One In. Although there is already both a novel and two film adaptations, this Showtime series takes the story in some bold new directions while still drawing from many familiar elements of the plot. Some of its deviations are better than others, and it takes a while to fully find its own narrative footing, though it takes flight to vibrant destinations once it does.
One of the most significant alterations is that of the setting, as the quiet communities of the aforementioned films are replaced by a modern-day New York City. Mark (Demián Bichir) is moving back to the area he used to call home with his vampire daughter Eleanor (Madison Taylor Baez) after they’ve been away for nearly a decade. Never staying in one place for too long, the duo has had to keep to themselves and not get attached to anyone as they could be gone the next day. When they first arrive at their apartment, Eleanor is being held in a crate and beginning to get hungry. Once she is released, Mark rushes to cut himself to give her some blood after the long trip. It is the smallest of many sacrifices he has made and will continue to make to protect her at any cost. When she calms after drinking the blood of her father, they discuss how this will be a place that they can actually stay in. This is because Mark is clinging to the hope that he can find a cure for her here so that this will not be her whole life. The relationship they share, forever bound by tragedy, is the beating and bloody heart of the show.
The rest of the experience is a little more muddled and lessens the rather profound struggles of the characters. Living right down the hall is Naomi (Anika Noni Rose) and her magic-loving son Isaiah (Ian Foreman) who have their own life challenges. Some of these serve as darkly poetic mirrors of the original story, with Isaiah getting bullied at school and dealing with an absent father, while others are much less compelling. Namely, Naomi is a police officer who has been investigating mysterious events going on in the city. While it is clear that this connects with the fact that vampires live in this world, it lacks many of the same emotional grounding points and feels like filler. Disconnected from nearly all of this is Claire (Grace Gummer) who has discovered that the brother she thought was dead is actually also a vampire and has been kept alive by her ailing father Arthur (Zeljko Ivanek) from whom she is estranged. All of these aspects of the narrative can often drag and, while it is understandable for a television show to add subplots, they don’t ever grab you as much as the main plot does. While it all ends up being relevant, there is still a bit of padding to get through first that starts to risk rendering the whole experience superficial as a result.
However, in viewing Episodes 1 through 5 as well as 7, when everything begins to align, the show can prove to be quite striking. Much of this is due to how Bichir brings an understated yet no less complete commitment to the character. Beyond the moments that Mark shares with his daughter, there are strong scenes of him alone, trying to navigate the heavy burden he carries on his shoulders. We bear witness to more of the personal fears that he has about what the future holds for him and Eleanor. He has done horrible things for them to survive, and we can see the toll this has begun to take when the appearances he keeps up for her fall away. One of the few people that he can talk to is Zeke, played by the always graceful Kevin Carroll, who he shares a history with. When the two characters just get a beat to share a conversation together and grapple with the darkness that is always looming is when we really start to see glimpses of Let the Right One In at its best. The way details slowly begin to emerge as Mark rediscovers his love and talent for cooking is tinged with sadness; this is not something he can ever fully throw himself into. There will always be the prevailing peril that could soon await him and all those he cares for if he were to lose sight of what he needs to do for even just an instant.
While the show expresses an interest in the origin of what is causing people to become vampires, this puzzle box is less interesting than seeing the impact of the transformation on a deeper level. What made the original film, as well as the shockingly good remake, so distinct was how they mixed the supernatural with the existential. What is the value of living like this? What can one do to endure having to destroy others just to survive? The more the story became stripped down and focused, the more it grabbed hold of you. You cared about the characters so completely that the cruelty they both received and inflicted cut to the bone. There were no broader mysteries to be solved that could fix what is essentially a curse that they were doomed to carry on with for the rest of their lives. It was distinctively bleak while still being darkly beautiful in revealing the grim truths underpinning our preconceptions of this tale. They were each painful works that peeled back the excess to get to something more eternal and emotional about the loneliness that can come from being alive for so long.
Much of that is lost here and holds back a still-good show from being the great one it aspires to be. Thankfully, in the later episodes, it starts to settle in and get more focused. In particular, Episode 7 is a standout that works best because of how much it pulls back to focus on the well-crafted characters. More than the source material, it felt reminiscent of the underseen 2020 film My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To in how it immerses itself in the costs of having to live almost entirely for another. It reaches a showstopping and devastating moment that is simple yet completely crushing. While it can’t fully make up for some of the missteps that preceded it, these types of stories go a long way to helping the show carve out its own direction. Once you begin to stop evaluating the series alongside the films and get taken in by the growing sense of connection, there is really a lot to appreciate. Even as it may not be what you expected, or manage to fully rise to the high bar set by the interpretations that have come before, there is something in Let the Right One In that sneaks up on you when you least expect it to.