The Book is Better: Kids Are Creepy

Words by Ryan Sim

Published on October 6, 2014


Thoughts and memories of film adaptations and the novels that inspired them.

The horror genre has been in a worsening condition for a while: things were going downhill, and maybe Saw was the gravestone. Maybe it was even earlier than that. By now, it seems all the tropes are worn thin, hole ridden. Horror on the screen doesn’t scare like it once did: it exists now in service of its own corniness. I maintain writing is set apart from this affliction when it comes to the scares-department. By virtue of the medium alone, it already has many more tools to get inside our heads and under our skin.

Let The Right One In got its limited theatrical release in 2008, in the art house cinemas of Brisbane. It skipped into culture maybe a year before True Blood, just ahead of the whole vampire-boom. Vampires were archaic as subject matter. Those stories were old enough to be alien, but also long-gone enough to lend themselves to redefinition (as we eventually saw). Moreover, this movie was about kids! Child-vampires! The addition of kids to the stagnating recipe of horror became commonplace pretty quickly after this. Perhaps it’s pretty cheap and transparent now (SinisterInsidious), but at the time, what better way to give audiences the heebie-jeebies.

In 2010, the inevitable happened: the Hollywood remake Let Me In. Many scoffed at the Americanisation, as is always the case, but two years before I have no doubt unheard purists were yelling at the Swedish film, “But the book was better!” I watched Let Me In while laying on the carpet in a living room in Perth, intermittently sexting a woman I’d met at a show my band had played the previous night. As Chloe Grace-Moretz and Richard Jenkins played out scenes that were, by then, two years old with their edges dulled, I concentrated my attention on things just as temporary, just as easily forgotten.

It’s true; I don’t remember many details from either film. The aesthetic, sure; the abstract feeling of discomfort and uneasiness too. But more than anything, thinking and speaking about these films makes me think of the time in my life, the moment just before I decided to be a writer. I’d always written, but it’s one thing to simply do something, and another entirely to define yourself by it. Laying on that West-Australian floor, I was still immersed in the band-culture I’d come up in. As that end pool scene unfolded again, this time in English, I was worrying about falling behind on my reading list, worrying about not working on my Masters project. I came back from that tour, got straight into classes again (after a two-week absence), and it was then that the decision was made.

True to the weird, ouroboric way life works, it was this decision that led me to read the novel, as part of my studies. I’m not sure if I was aware of the novel at the time I watched the Swedish film, or the American version, and I think this proves how unimportant that fact really is to us. Just as I had kind of half-assed my writing career thus far, our culture seems to take so much from writing without really taking it seriously. I know I’m still guilty of this–I love those Marvel films, but I’ve never read any of the books they’re based on. They’re some of the biggest “blockbusters” we’ve ever seen–meanwhile comic books are a niche culture, with physical stores closing down, and many indie creators struggling just to get their work out there and read. I guess the connection I’m making here is that in my own life, I decided to commit. Rather than just write when I felt like it, I wanted writing to be something I’d do even when I didn’t. I guess that’s how you “become” anything: you let it become you too.

Anyway, I came to Let The Right One In in its original form, at last. Any good book will put your internal world in perspective, and teach you something more about what it is to feel things. Let The Right One In definitely taught me about fear. Maybe this was emphasised by the fact it had been turned into two movies, which, as great as they were, stood squarely in a very stale genre of film. To be scared is not the same as being surprised (those “Boo!” moments I can never seem to get used to). Fear is meditative. Fear is not momentary, but it can stay with you for years. Fear embroils the people around you, whether they’re aware of it or not. Fear seeps into your landscape. Fear is powerful in that it can shape you as a person if you don’t overcome it.

At a time when I really needed motivational fuel to head down a fairly challenging path, Let The Right One In was one of the works of fiction that reinforced what it is to feel, and what it is to write. One of the main memories I’m left with, from the book and films, is that to become what you wish to be, you need to step outside of your perceived self. It doesn’t matter if it appears unsavoury to those around you (or those watching the last few minutes of your time on screen). Obviously real life doesn’t work quite like this. I didn’t immediately step off a stage in a 300-capacity venue and sit down at a rolltop desk with a typewriter. I sometimes feel like, these days, I have my feet planted in two worlds. Last night I played a show in a tiny room, in which the noise swirled around me. For thirty minutes there was nothing else. Today I sit at my desk drinking tea, typing this out, trying to find eloquence. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be asked to fly to Perth again with a band, but being on stage isn’t what’s most important to me. Having a cover on my book and a sticker saying “$19.99” isn’t what’s most important either. Before you disregard me as unambitious, they are important to me, in the hierarchy, but what is most important is that I have the opportunity to be creative in any capacity. I have the opportunity to feel both terrified and excited about my own choices in life.