You can look at Let Me In as its own film or as a remake of a movie still fresh on our minds and one that absolutely did not need to be remade. Let the Right One In (which made my top ten of 2008) is one of of the best horror movies of the decade and nothing can take that away from it. What you get out of this movie depends largely on your stance regarding remakes.
Let’s face it, being in English with North American faces that don’t challenge Middle American audiences who don’t like to read their movies is all the justification Hollywood needs. The time to rail against the idea of remaking recent foreign films has passed. It’s inevitable and all we can do is either rip the bad ones apart as loudly and intellectually as we can or admit when one slips through the system that’s pretty good and try to get people to watch the original film as a result.
As its own film Let Me In is very good. At times, almost great. It has elements that are less effective than the original and it has elements that improve on the original. It’s not different enough to have its own identity and if a fan of the original were to ask if it’s worth seeing my answer would depend wholly on what their intentions were. If it were a layperson who wasn’t serious about film I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. If it were a discerning fan of the art I’d tell them to see it only as an experiment after having watched the original. It’s not a shot for shot remake like Gus Van Sant’s horribly ill-advised Psycho but it’s also not bold enough to try and forge ahead on its own and have its own life. As remakes go, it’s a very safe play.
Sporting one of the worst hairstyles since The Fifth Element, Kodi Smit-McPhee is Owen, a lonely young man whose recently separated mother [whose face is always out of frame or focus, a nice touch] doesn’t understand him and a boy whose size and awkwardness make him a target for bullies. He’s the quintessential oddball, someone who experiences life by watching others around him living theirs. His apartment complex is filled with an assortment of interesting people who we only meet through fleeting moments as Owen peeks into their windows. The latest inhabitants are a young “girl” and her “father” (Chloë Grace Moretz & Richard Jenkins) who arrive late in the night and soon board up their windows. Already odd by virtue of her mysterious arrival, the new girl named Abby first meets Owen on the snow covered jungle gym in the courtyard on dirty, bare feet and makes it apparent she doesn’t want to be his friend. But she too is a misfit. Two empty vessels, they’re destined to become friends and bond first over Owen’s Rubik’s Cube (the film is set in the 80’s) and then escalate to video games and Now & Later candies before things get messy. Really messy.
Abby is a vampire and the man pretending to be her father is her human helper. In the night he goes and kills for her, coming home with jugs of human blood to fuel her arcane existence. They’re nomads who stay in one place just as long as they can evade being discovered, and things go bad rather quickly as the detective (Elias Koteas) following the trail of bodies gets closer. What follows involves bloodshed, first love, and a most sublime last act that the less said about the better in hopes of preserving its originality.
Part horror film, part procedural, and part coming-of-age tale, Let Me In is an smart blend of very rich moments both innocent and extremely dark and twisted that wisely focuses on the relationship between Abby and Owen instead of escalating towards the typical vampire movie staples that have been worn thin by overuse. The story never spends too much time on a subplot but doesn’t cheapen them either. As a result it gives fine actors like Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas a chance to fill the margins with very nice characterization, balanced by excellent work from both young leading actors. It’s very deft work by all involved and the dramatic character work makes the shocking moments sing. The only betrayals to the mixture is the overcooked music and the use of obvious CGI during the vampire attack sequences. Those two elements take the nuance and subtlety out of the movie, but writer/director Matt Reeves makes a lot of very good stylistic decisions in nearly every other aspect of the film. And his cast truly excels.
Chloë Grace Moretz was an odd choice for this based on her solid [if not a bit overhyped] performance as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass, but she does a very nice job of carrying the guilt and sadness of her character’s existence and shows remarkable restraint. It would have been very easy to give Abby a little more sparkle in her eye and make her a little more likable, but there’s never a moment where the weight of her curse isn’t obvious in her demeanor. McPhee is also good, but there are a few too many scenes where he’s not allowed to play off another actor. Koteas does a lot with very little and Richard Jenkins delivers a very sad and eerie performance that adds new shades to an already amazing body of work. He’s an actor who will one day be recognized as one of the best we have.
Let Me In is very competently made and affirms director Matt Reeves as quite an interesting filmmaker to watch but there’s nothing about it that would cause me to tell someone to choose it over the original except for the fact it’s in English and that it cuts a few corners in getting to the good stuff. It’s so well made and acted that I recommend it wholeheartedly but in a perfect world its best service is to be a gateway film to the original and other films like it that bend the genre in ways that give much-needed life to very cliched material.
That said, I see this making a very big impact on people who don’t know of the original. It’s a special tale regardless of what language you’re hearing it in.
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