Thursday, October 7, 2010

Let Me In (Seriously's cold out here)

You’ve read the book. You’ve sent angry letters to the Academy Awards blasting them for not nominating the Swedish film in the best foreign category. You’ve ranted on message boards about how Hollywood will rape the material with CGI and CW casting. 
Then you saw an early poster and thought hm, that’s clever. You heard the casting of Chloe Kickass Moretz, Kodi Smit-McI Acted Alongside Viggo Mortenson & Probably Learned a Lot of Great Stuff-Phee, everybody’s favorite undertaker (that’s not David Fisher) Richard Jenkins, and Casey Jones/Not Chris Meloni aka Elias Koteas. Maybe you even read an intelligent interview with writer/director Matt Reeves. Something in you finally kicked: the American remake of Let the Right One In just may be all right.
Quick Plot: An unnamed policeman (Koteas) arrives at a hospital to interview an acid burn victim/murder suspect. Not long after, the disfigured, unnamed man throws himself out the window as we flash back two weeks earlier.

12-year-old Owen is small for his age, an instant outcast with a whisper soft voice and lonely existence. Other than eating Now & Laters, getting beaten up by bullies, and avoiding his wino mother’s macaroni and cheese dinners, he passes most of his time hanging out alone on the playground of his drab Soviet-like New Mexico apartment complex. 
One day, a mysterious man and his ‘daughter’ move in and suddenly Owen is sharing jungle gym space with Abby, the smart and elusive girl next door. “I can’t be your friend,”  she plainly states, though one day later, she’s back at his side to share puzzles and quiet stares.

You’re probably thinking “I KNOW THIS” because you more than likely saw Let the Right One In, one of the best genre films in recent years and forever in a heated battle with Near Dark for most rightfully respected vampire tale yet. Let Me In, it should be said, is very close to Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 adaptation. Yes, Reeves has stated that he wanted to use John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel as inspiration more than anything else, but he’s also an admitted admirer of the Swedish film and occasionally, Let Me In shows it a little too much. Some of the scenic compositions feel so directly influenced that at times, it’s simply distracting.

On the other hand, Reeves certainly does make specific changes to both source materials that ultimately works quite well. In Lindqvist’s novel, Oskar’s father is clearly drawn as an alcoholic and, in perhaps my favorite passage of the book, Oskar compares him to a werewolf to ultimately conclude that Eli’s vampirism really isn’t such a bad thing. Alfredson’s film features this character, but on first viewing, it’s almost too subtle as to what about him drives Oskar away. Let Me In takes more of the Charlie Brown approach. We briefly see his mother (now the clear alcoholic of the group) while his father remains a voice on the phone. Since this is a film about children, it works quite well.
What works best, however, are the performances of Moretz and Smit-McPhee, two wiser-than-their-years child actors who play their roles with such perfect restraint. As Owen, McPhee is like a mouse on a tightrope, so quietly frightened by virtually everything around him until one day, there’s something that can give him strength. Though his Owen never channels quite the same darkness as Alfredson’s version of Oskar, the relationship with Abby remains weirdly wonderful, filled with puppy love and the need for safety.

Let Me In is a fine film, well written, wonderfully acted, and beautifully shot. Is it better than Alfredson’s? I don’t think so, but it stands strong on its own merits. My only real complaint is that, as someone who has read the novel and seen the original film several times, I wish Reeves took a few more chances with bringing his own take to the story and look. Though he does cut out a lot of peripheral characters (mostly Oskar’s middle aged neighbors), the script itself is close to the other film that someone TOO familiar with the material may find themselves constantly trying to spot the differences. The Father’s garbage bag murder uniform will stand out, more because it was new than because it was creepy (though in fairness, it was creepy). 

Perhaps this bothers me more for my love of great adaptations than any devil’s advocate addiction I harness towards defending the idea of remakes (I know, remakes brought me It’s Alive ’09, but they also brought us The Thing and The Fly). I love a film that brings new life to a novel--The Sweet Hereafter, Election, Children of Men, to name a few--and I was truly hoping Reeves would do the same with Lindqvist’s work. He doesn’t, but that doesn’t necessarily spell doom for Let Me In. It just means I’m not quite as pleased as I was hoping to be.
High Points
A car accident is staged with some interesting and effective innovation. We've seen plenty of flipovers, but Reeves puts it in a new perspective (literally) that is both disorienting and weirdly scary

A minor spoiler, in terms of detail:
There’s a rather perfect moment in Abby’s apartment where Owen finds an old sepia photograph of her and what must be a young--probably just a few years older than Owen--version of “The Father.” Nothing needs to be said, but The Father/Abby’s history is instantly written on Owen’s face with what must be fear of his possible future. Those who have already seen Let the Right One In were most likely left with that haunting question of ‘what happens now?’, and this one quick scene spells it out perfectly

Low Points
Although the score (composed by Lost superstar Michael Giacchino) is quite good, the music in general feels overused, playing far too audibly in the background of several understated scenes
Middle Ground
I’m torn on the use of CGI in Abby’s vampiric attacks. On one hand, I love that the sped-up movement made her into a true monster and something animal, but on the other, I always rate CGI on whether or not, as I was watching it, it LOOKED like CGI and you know what? it looked like CGI
Lessons Learned
In the 1980s, Now & Later candy had a super catchy jingle

Cinematic bullies are more than just jerks; they're vengeful sociopaths with less morality than Jeffrey Dahmer, C. Montgomery Burns, or Bugs Bunny

1980s New Mexico looked an awful lot like 1980s Sweden, straight down to the train interiors and sparsely furnished vampire lairs
See/Skip/Sneak In
I recommend Let Me In, providing you can get to a theater not visited by high schoolers or general idiots. It’s a beautiful and occasionally scary film that works well on the big screen, one that lets you jump, listen, cringe, and smile. Is it the unique film treatment I was hoping for? Not really, but that shouldn’t necessarily deter a viewing. You might be fine waiting for the DVD (since lead time on that is now what, 3 weeks? Crazy changing marketplace) but if you’re a multiplex fan, you could certainly do worse than sitting back for some poetic vampire action. 


  1. You did a much nicer review than I was able to do. I agree with you in that it is good enough to go see. I enjoyed it, but it isn't as good as the original film I didn't think. I felt like I stumbled through my review. Hate it when I do that.

  2. I wouldn't say it was BETTER than the original, but I liked it more. The CGI did bother me though.

  3. Heather: Did you post your review yet? I can't seem to find it on your site.

    Kangas: Just curious, what exactly do you think made you like this version more (aside from the fact that they talked so much clearer and stuff)?

  4. You don't want to read it lol. I posted it over at Top Horror Movies Club. I tend to send new movie reviews over there. Let Me In has a low number of hits. Either I didn't write it well, unlike you, or there are just plenty of other reviews out there for it. Case 39 on the other hand has over 1000 hits in just under a week since I put the review up. First post to reach 1000 hits so that was a bit exciting to me

  5. Word to big bird, Emily. I'm not a huge fiction reader (though when I am, books like this one are usually in step with my reading habit) and I never finished watching the Swedish original film adaptation.

    But I really wanted to see the film and I'm sure I've got a good review in me somewhere, but I'm lazy and would rather see it again first.

    The acting and emotional atmosphere is what sprung me the most. I liked the fact that the story wasn't neat and it gave it a sort of authenticity, regardling life as an often cyclical tragedy, questioning monstrosity by making it the archetype of innocence and purtiy: a young, white girl.

    I'm glad I did see it because it was a spin on vampirism I've never seen executed. Ever.

  6. Oooh congrats Heather! I'll have to check it out. I've heard a whole lot of mixed things about Case 39 so I'll be sure to bump your views up to 1001.

    Ashlee: I'm not the biggest vampire fan, but yes, Let Me/the RIght One In works because it finds new poetry in the very idea. The original film grows on me every time I see it.

  7. I'm not sure I can tell you why I liked it better. It could be a case of the expectations, which is killing a lot of movies for me.

    I saw the original, having heard it was "the best vampire movie ever" etc, and just thought it was okay.

    So I didn't really have any expectations when I saw the remake.

    Also, really like that little girl--she can do no wrong after Kick Ass.

  8. I vote Chloe Mortez as the next Jodie Foster. She can handle incredibly intense and complicated material.

    I can see your reactions making sense Kangas. I was lucky to see LEt the Right One In pretty early, but I do recall a week or two later (after I heard the heaps and heaps of praise) wondering if I missed SOMETHING. I LOVED the original, don't get me wrong. I'm just always nervous when the world is coating something in gold. That was my problem with Trick r Treat, which I liked, but felt so underwhelmed by after a lot of my friends declared it the next horror messiah.