A film review by Craig J. Koban October 20, 2010

Rank:  #25


2010, R, 105 mins.


Chloe Grace Moretz: Abby / Kodi Smit-McPhee: Owen / Richard Jenkins: The Father / Elias Koteas: The Policeman / Dylan Minnette: Kenny

Written and directed by Matt Reeves / based on the novel and Swedish film "Let the Right One In," by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 Swedish-romantic-horror film, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN – in turn based on a 2004 novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist – is the most compelling, atmospheric, and hauntingly memorable vampire film that I’ve recently seen.  It told a coming-of-age story, of sorts, of a ruthlessly bullied 12-year-old Stockholm lad that develops a highly unlikely friendship with an equally introverted and shy vampire child.  

That film did two things with an astonishing precision and economy: it provided an insight into the social plight and psychology of the terrorized child as well as showing a judicious understanding of the melancholic plight that typifies the best vampire fiction.  The TWILIGHT films, for example, make being a centuries-old bloodsucker seductively cool and inviting, but LET THE RIGHT ONE IN meditated on the notion that the affliction is more akin to an unwanted curse; a vampire’s life is mournfully tragic, not enticingly sexy. 

My unending fondness for Alfredson’s masterful film made me recoil with a lot of reticence when word got out that a Hollywood treatment would be attempted.  I am usually responsive and open-mined when it comes to remakes in general, and some have most certainly surprised me (see Jonathon Demme’s THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, Martin Scorsese's THE DEPARTED, or this year's THE KARATE KID), but Americanizing a foreign film typically raises some red flags.  Yet, Matt Reeves (who directed the nifty and inventive monster invasion film, CLOVERFIELD) in his remake, LET ME IN, shows an uncanny level of comprehension and admiration for Alfredson’s eerie and quietly intense original, so much so that it manages to both stay outstandingly faithful to the source material while ever-so-slightly tweaking it to make the film feel like an original work all on its own.  In the end, I was genuinely surprised by what a striking piece of character-driven horror fiction that Reeve’s effort is when compared to its antecedent; he shows how to effectively pay homage to a revered film while letting his own modest changes stand out.  That’s the key to a successful remake. 

The script, also penned with a sensitive and perceptive eye by Reeves, makes some changes here and there that does not overwhelmingly hurt the essence of the original: the names of its two key child characters are changed; the setting of snow covered Stockholm has been changed to a New Mexican town; the ambiguities between the vampire and her “father” figure have been modified and clarified with intriguing results; and there is a well orchestrated flashback structure – vacant in Alfredson’s film – that catches viewers up about a third of the way through the film and culminates with on an emotionally high crescendo.   

Yet, the core of original story is still here: we still have two misfits that form an improbable bond and love for one another; the time period is still the early 1980's  (although Reeves’ film makes it feel abundantly more evident and perhaps draws a bit too much attention to the period detail than it needed to); the one child is still horrifically accosted by his classmates; and the film still concludes with a feverously intense and frightening climax set at a high school swimming pool.  Even much of the chillingly evocative tone and, in many instances, individual shots and sequences are lifted from the original by Reeves to affectionate results.  But, again, the aesthetic approach here is not a slavishly shot-for-shot redo like Gus Vant Sant's PSYCHO; Reeves intuitively knows how to lend subtle variation to key sequences that would have felt plagiarized under a less swift hand. 

Oskar and Eli - the boy and the vampire respectively from the first film, played in two outstanding child performances by Kare Hedebrandt and Lina Leandersson - have been renamed Owen and Abby.  Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, the poignantly natural and limitlessly talented youth performer from THE ROAD) is a geeky, socially awkward, and wretchedly friendless 12-year-old boy that is bullied in traumatizing ways at school.  His home life is not better; he lives with a divorced mother that is a double threat - religiously fanatical and alcoholic (which Reeves reveals all with carefully coordinated camera shots, inserts, and efficient dialogue exchanges; we never see her face – we just get an overriding impression of this sad woman, filtered through Owen’s eyes).   Owen is lonely and looking for some escape from his hermetically sealed, hermit-like child existence.   

Fate steps in when he meets a mysterious new neighbor, a pretty, but relentlessly dour girl named Abby (KICK ASS' Chloe Grace Moretz, who continues to display an atypical affinity for playing young roles with a maturity and range beyond her age).  She moves in next door with what appears to be her father (Richard Jenkins, one of our most quietly commanding of character actors, who plays his role with a wounded dignity and distressing vulnerability), but a few things really perplexes Owen about them both.  She never appears outside of her home during daylight hours and their apartment windows are sealed up tight with cardboard and curtains blocking the outside elements from coming in.  Even odder is that she seems to have no issues at all with walking barefoot in the frigid snow without so much as flinching. 

It’s easy to see why Owen seems drawn to her: she is perhaps even more of a reclusive and enigmatic loner than he is.  Their meet-cute does not go all that well, as she quickly asserts that they cannot possibly become friends at all.  Despite this, though, the pair do become inexplicably drawn to each other: they meet more and more in the apartment park, share a mutual fondness for the Rubik’s Cube, and even confine in each other (she gives him some rather blunt advice as to how to handle his burdensome school bully problem).  However, Owen does begin to notice more peculiar things about her, like her violent allergic reaction to his favorite candy, the notion that she does not like to speak of her past (she reveals that she does not even know her own birthday), and, yup, the fact that she never seems to be bothered by wearing tattered clothing outdoors in the middle of winter.  Just who is this girl?   

Of course, fans of the original known what the girl is – a dangerous, blood-lusting nocturnal monster that must feed on humans in order to survive.  We discover this well before the boy does (in both film versions), which is what allows for an unnerving tension to build between the children as the film continues to develop their friendship.  One of the most disturbing tragedies of the Swedish version – securely represented again in Reeves’ film – is not only the way the girl’s Nosferatu-lifestyle is the bane of her existence (it’s one thing to live forever and feed on blood to live, but to be forever trapped in a child’s body is even more sad), but also the arc of her paternal figure, who must become a surreptitious serial killer, capturing and draining his victims of blood to feed his daughter so that she does not have to go on a killer spree that would make her secret public.  And what Jenkins does with the role is deceptively brilliant: he captures – in his eyes – the soul of a man beleaguered by decades of regret and remorse; he does not like what he does, but is forced to when there are no other alternatives.  He’s basically a slave to Abbey’s needs. 

Reeves’ film is a technical marvel as well: he forges a sense of unsettling dread with his winter landscapes (although I think his film does not feel as inhospitably cold and bitter as Alfredson’s work, the latter which made its arctic and astringent climate even more foreboding).  There is one sequence in LET ME IN that’s an editorial masterpiece: Reeves shows Jenkins committing a grisly murder in a car by strangling his prey and then the car careens off the road (in an apparent unbroken POV shot) that concludes with a jolt to the senses.  Reeves also does an empowered job of honing in on the mood of the wearisome relationship between Owen and Abbey and is able to command amazing chemistry between McPhee and Moretz, which are every bit their Swedish counterparts’ equals.  LET ME IN, like the original film, shows a great understanding of the fragility of young friendship and love while underscoring the calamitous effect of childhood social trauma and and anxiety.   

Not all of Reeves’ remake works resoundingly well: There are a few instances when he over-utilizes some obvious CGI-effects to speed up Abbey’s gravity defying attacks that takes you out of the distressing tone of certain scenes.  There are a couple of shots inserted of Ronald Reagan – on TV during a Presidential address – speaking of the horrors of evil that seems a bit too obtrusively spot on in terms of referencing the themes of the story (Alfredson’s film knew how to keep the 80’s cultural referencing to a bare minimum in his film, knowing that it could prove distracting).  One thing that Reeves could have also observed better is how the 2008 film used silence to foster tension.   Michael Giacchino’s score – even with its ethereally beautiful cords – sometimes overwhelms specific moments where the absence of music would have proven much more frightening and creepy. 

Nonetheless, those are just idle nitpicks, because Reeves has done the unthinkable by making an English-language, Hollywood-adorned remake of a much lauded Swedish horror film that rarely feels like a prototypical American-bastardization of the source material.  LET ME IN neither insults the legacy of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, nor is it so unquestioning in its devotion of it to feel like a wasted and redundant retread.   At its best, LET ME IN pays homage to the refined elements of the 2008 film that preceded it: both are not so much vampire films as much as they are concerned with the loneliness of children and how their mutual estrangement from the world is used as a conduit to enter each other’s lives.  It’s a shame that LET ME IN tanked at the box office, because it's character and thematic driven horror that North American audiences should be force fed, especially when they galvanize ticket sales for the limp-wristed and lame-as-hell TWILIGHT series.  Consider LET ME IN (and LET THE RIGHT ONE IN) as your much-needed antidotes to the trials and tribulations of Bella’s turmoil over Team Edward and Team Jacob.



I neglected to see - for inexplicable reasons - LET THE RIGHT ONE IN when it played theatrically in 2008, which is why you do not see a full length review of it on this site.  Having now seen the film it would easily garner a 4-star rating from me and definitely would have occupied a place on my TEN BEST FILMS OF 2008.

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