What's scarier to North Americans: vampires or subtitles?

Let Me In, the recent American remake of Let the Right One In, is the latest example of Hollywood’s favourite pointless exercise: remaking recent foreign films for no reason other than to re-package and sell them to widespread American audiences.

The original Swedish movie was released only two years ago and immediately received global attention for its eerie combination of the vampire and coming-of-age genres. The American version, directed by Cloverfield 's Matt Reeves, is also a very good movie, but its “good” qualities are products of its redundancy.

It’s become sadly commonplace for studios to pick up recent foreign films and fill them with American faces and English-speaking characters. Anxious, recession-hit studio execs love nothing more than dipping their toes in already-tested waters. Remakes allow studios to capitalize on the qualities that made the films popular while sparing us lazy North Americans the difficulty of reading subtitles.

An American version of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is already in development, occupying the considerable talents of the Social Network director David Fincher. Undoubtedly, he’ll do a great job, but that still doesn’t mean the movie needs to be made. The original film just finished its run in Vancouver’s Tinseltown theatre. The books have a massive readership and, with the right marketing push, surely an intelligent thriller starring a hot, tough Swedish chick could pull in some pretty good numbers.

Yet not only will an American remake be made, but it will be set in Sweden. So a bunch of American actors are going to traipse around Sweden, doing Swedish accents and remaking a Swedish movie that already had a widespread American release. The sequels of the foreign franchise are not even complete – does this mean multiple versions of the same films are going to be released concurrently over the next few years?

The massive audience for the book also proved that its fans are, well, capable of reading a book. It may be “airport fiction” to some, but it is 900 pages long and considerably better written than the Da Vinci Code. Surely an audience with that level of sophistication can handle watching a subtitled film.

Not to mention the fact that (spoiler alert!) the book/film features explicit content, including extremely disturbing rape scenes. Are Middle American salt-of-the-earth types going to be interested in watching a movie with that content, whether or not the characters onscreen speak a funny language?

Of course, there are situations where a remake of a recent movie is warranted, and they generally fall into one of two categories. The first is where the remake significantly alters the source material. Martin Scorsese’s the Departed was a creative remake of a Chinese action series called Infernal Affairs. The second situation is where the original film did not enter the North American lexicon, and likely never would, without a remake. The Ring brought a whole generation of fans to the J-Horror genre.

But even when the American remake closely follows the source material, the few aspects that have to be changed are pretty revealing. Spoilers again: in Let the Right One In, there is an uncanny scene that explicitly reveals the androgyny of the “female” lead. Presumably due to censorship issues, the American remake can only hint at the topic, with little Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) saying at one point, “I’m not a girl”.

The problem with all of this is that it creates a culture that is repetitive and stagnant. Hollywood already relies on franchises and fads to a heavy degree. We have four vampire movies coming out a year at the moment and one of those is always a Twilight film. The recession has created an environment where studios cannot take risks, and so original property scripts are sidelined for another remake or sequel.

Even more serious is the fact that remaking foreign films perpetuates ongoing ethnocentricity that should be challenged. I’m not suggesting that the studios themselves are xenophobic – they just remake the movies because they know they will be successful, and they don’t want to gamble on new ideas – but the result is to imply to the rest of the world that North Americans only want to watch white people speaking English, or worse, that only American studios can competently make a good film.

Our cultural output is an indication of who we are (unfortunately so for Canadians who aren’t super psyched about Score: A Hockey Musical). So should foreign films only be relics of obscure arthouse cinema and film festivals like VIFF? Or can we handle reading a subtitle or two at the old Cineplex Odeon?

//Laura Kane, Columnist

Laura Kane is a grammatically reliable UBC-attending contributor to the Courier, who has been watching movies since before George Lucas was ruining them. It’s actually quite possible that she’s seen every movie ever made by a human. All of these things made her the genuinely ideal candidate for a film columnist.

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