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Let the Right One In Makes Vampires as Boring as the Rest of Us

Showtime’s literal-minded series sucks the fun out of sucking blood
  •  Ian Foreman and Madison Taylor Baez in Let the Right One In (Photo: Francisco Roman/Showtime)
    Ian Foreman and Madison Taylor Baez in Let the Right One In (Photo: Francisco Roman/Showtime)

    It’s worth mentioning that vampires aren’t real. If the team behind Let The Right One In had kept that in mind, then they might have made a better show.

    Granted, there are elements of mystery woven throughout the Showtime series, which is the latest adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel about a bullied preteen boy who befriends a child vampire. Its best scenes are animated by an eerie beauty, like when we see the shadow of undead young Eleanor (Madison Taylor Baez) crouched outside the window of her sleeping pal Isaiah (Ian Foreman). The shot is not only gorgeous (and a nice homage to the two film versions of this story), but also vivid with meaning. On one hand, it’s moving to see Eleanor stand guard over Isaiah like a gargoyle on a church ledge, because we know his open-hearted companionship has awakened a human part of her that she thought she’d lost. On the other, it’s unsettling to see her perched up there. We know she can only climb that high because she’s trapped in a supernatural existence that makes her miserable, and we know the very powers that make her a protector also make her a destroyer. For her, watching over Isaiah could mean tearing the children that bully him apart.

    Mostly, though, the show isn’t interested in being lyrical. Instead, creator Andrew Hinderaker reduces the premise to a series of tropes, as though blunt emotion and literal-minded storytelling are the only options for filling up a season’s worth of episodes.

    Take the very idea of vampirism: There’s a new storyline, created for this show, about Arthur Logan (Željko Ivanek), the disgraced CEO of a drug company who has spent the last decade feverishly trying to find a cure for the virus that turns people into bloodsuckers. His son has been infected, you see, so he’s been experimenting on chimps and making various pills in order to save the lad. When Arthur realizes he’s about to die of cancer, he calls his daughter Claire (Grace Gummer), who’s also a scientist, to continue his work. She hates him, but since she loves her brother, she’s willing to give it a try.

    This family could be on any show. Logan, for instance, is an obvious stand-in for a member of the Sackler family, and Claire despises him because he pushed opioids on people. You could drop their story into Dopesick, or you could replace the drugs with a media conglomerate and get Succession. Of course, if that HBO show had a scene where the daughter burned a portrait of her father in the front yard, it would have the decency to make a joke about it. Here, it’s just an opportunity for Claire to express her frustration.

    Similarly, Isaiah’s mother Naomi (Anika Noni Rose) could be a detective on any CSI spinoff. She may be investigating murders committed by monsters, but her story beats contain the tired old stuff about her frazzled personal life, her guilt about letting her partner get hurt in the line of duty, and her paranoid belief that everyone’s a criminal.

    Even Eleanor’s relationship with her father Mark (Demián Bichir), who has sacrificed everything to keep her safe, is frequently reduced to arguments about when she’s allowed to see her friends. That’s perhaps the most telling detail. In both the novel and all the previous adaptations, the vampire child is minded not by a parent, but by a grown man who hovers uncomfortably between acolyte and slave. It’s a fraught and inexplicable relationship that asks us to suspend our disbelief and accept their bond as something almost mystical. This show doesn’t have room for that type of wonder. Instead, it delivers a father and daughter who almost feel mundane. These two seem more likely to bicker about curfew than navigate the mystery of their dark fate, and we don't need a vampire series to show us something like that.

    Let the Right One In premieres Sunday, October 9 at 10:00 PM ET on Showtime.

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    Mark Blankenship is Primetimer's Reviews Editor. Tweet him at @IAmBlankenship.

    TOPICS: Let the Right One In, Showtime, Anika Noni Rose, Demián Bichir, Grace Gummer, Ian Foreman, Madison Taylor Baez, Zeljko Ivanek