A film review by Craig J. Koban October 20, 2010
LET ME IN
2010, R, 105 mins.
2010, R, 105 mins.
Chloe Grace Moretz: Abby / Kodi Smit-McPhee: Owen / Richard
Jenkins: The Father / Elias Koteas: The Policeman / Dylan
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
course, fans of the original known what the girl is – a
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.
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.
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.