Let the Right One In began un-life as a novel by Swedish writer John Ajvide Lindqvist. It concerns the friendship between 300-year-old vampire, Eli, who looks like a little girl, and lonely twelve-year-old human boy Oskar. Eli also has an adult human “caretaker,” Hakan, whose tasks include procuring blood.
The novel was adapted as a Swedish feature film in 2008, with novelist Lindqvist providing the screenplay for director Tomas Alfredson. An American remake, Let Me In, was released in 2010.
Now Andrew Hinderaker, who previously created the Netflix speculative fiction astronaut series Away and was a writer on Showtime’s Penny Dreadful, has developed Let the Right One In as a ten-episode series for Showtime.
Over a Zoom call, Hinderaker relates how he came to reimagine Let the Right One In for television. “I was at Tomorrow Studios, which owns the IP [intellectual property]. We were talking about a different project. One of the wonderful executives, Alissa Bachner, who’s now a co-executive producer on Let the Right One In, mentioned in passing that they had the rights to the project. I adored the Swedish film and the novel, and I said, ‘Honestly, I know we’re supposed to be talking about something else, but I’m not going to hear another word that you say, having talked about Let the Right One In. I would love to end the meeting now, go rewatch the film, see if it still speaks to me the same way, and see if I still feel like I have something to offer.’ I did rewatch, and it spoke to me more deeply and more personally than ever, and I talked to Tomorrow Studios about why, and then eventually talked to Showtime about why, and the series was born from there.”
Hinderaker has made some changes to the material. Significantly, the main vampire, Eleanor “Ellie” Kane (Madison Taylor Baez), still appears to be a child, but was only turned ten years ago. Her “caretaker” is now her loving father, Mark, played by Demián Bichir, who guiltily murders to feed Ellie blood, but is also ceaselessly searching for a cure, which has brought them back to New York after a decade away.
Ellie’s new twelve-year-old friend Isaiah Cole (Ian Foreman) lives down the hall with his mother. Unlike the alcoholic mother in the novel, Naomi Cole (Anika Noni Rose, of the miniseries Stephen King’s Bag of Bones) is caring, involved – and an NYPD homicide detective, which could be problematic for Mark and Ellie.
Hinderaker emphasizes that the series’ Ellie is not Eli from the novel. “Even though our character is nicknamed Ellie, which is an homage, it’s a completely different character. Because part of Mark’s emotional journey is trying to cure his daughter, but in some ways [he cannot] get the girl back who is now forever gone, regardless of whether the cure happens. And that would be, to me, a less impactful story, if our Eleanor had been three hundred years old.”
Other alterations are because Hinderaker wanted to expand the world, and because they logically came out of the narrative.
“One of the really exciting aspects of the show for me is, whenever you’re looking at a television series, whether it’s Penny Dreadful or Away or Let the Right One In, I ask the questions, ‘What’s emotionally at the center of it?’ and ‘What kind of narrative does it drive?’ So, with the emotional center of Mark’s love for his daughter, Eleanor’s need to survive, all that he does to protect and feed her, and all that they’re doing together to try to find a cure for what she is, if you just honor that simple premise, a number of storylines come out of it.
“If the larger mythical storyline is, ‘We need to find the creature that bit you, and we need to find a cure,’ in the meantime, her father is killing people to feed her so that she can live, which naturally presents all kinds of danger from the people that he’s potentially killing, to the homicide detectives like Naomi, who are going to try to hunt him down.
“Meanwhile, Mark is not a scientist, so who is the character who might actually be working on a treatment or a cure, who presents that possibility and hope? I certainly had a desire to open up the mythology, and to open up the lens in this great setting of New York City, but it wasn’t driven by that. It was really driven by this intimate emotional core of father and daughter.”
The reason that the Let the Right One In source material impacts Hinderaker so intensely is, he says, “This is a genre that I have always loved, and I’ve always responded to works in horror that take the form seriously, and have used the beautiful form of horror to explore deeply emotional stories about what it is to feel monstrous, to be monstrous, to be isolated, and how often the genre can offer the most beautiful vehicle for the most personal and present stories imaginable.”
The Swedish film also took on new meaning for Hinderaker when he rewatched it. “I was as moved as ever, but there was one moment in particular in the film where, after this child vampire creature feeds and realizes what she’s done, she’s taken a life in order to feed, she doubles over and starts crying. It really struck me as a story about addiction, that this was a creature who was addicted to blood, and a lot of what the film and the novel explore is how devastating that can be, not just for the vampire, but for all who love and care for her. That was a story I was really interested in exploring, a vampire story that was also about addiction, and a horror story that was also about how far a parent is willing to go to protect and love their child.”
One big difference between vampires and human addicts is that, in the case of the latter, the addiction is generally detrimental to the person’s health. In the case of vampires, the addiction to blood is what keeps the addict alive.
Hinderaker acknowledges the distinction. For him, “I think that where the metaphor is really potent in the film and in our series is that [the addiction] might be keeping Eleanor alive, but it’s taking life from everyone around her. So, it’s a deeply destructive act, and we have to look at the consequences.”
Let the Right One In ends on a note that allows for a second season, Hinderaker relates. Meanwhile, what he’d like people to know about the first season is, “The show is a love letter to that IP we talked about, but it is its own story. More than anything, we aspire to be a terrifying and thrilling show, but at the core of our show is a tremendous amount of love. That was one of the privileges of writing for Penny Dreadful – it was a thrill to write for [creator] John Logan’s show – there was so much love in it. As horrific and ghostly as those characters were, there was so much love coursing through that series. And that’s certainly something that I aspire to in this series as well.”
The first episode of Let The Right One In is now streaming, click below to watch now.