Let Me In
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Written by: Matt Reeves (screenplay), John Ajvide Lindqvist (book)
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, and Elias Koteas
Cinema purists (this one included) were dreading the inevitable day they would have to sit through an American remake to the beloved Swedish film Let the Right One In. It was the vampire movie that didn’t suck, and we’d be damned if Hollywood was going to take that away from us with a big budget redo with A-list stars. Some watchers would never let this one in; never consider the possibility that it could be good. They’d be missing out.
As it turns out, Let Me In is a surprisingly competent remake of the excellent Swedish version. Like so many other films, this one originated in literature, though the films are more widely known. Matt Reeves, known mostly for Cloverfield, takes the story from Sweden to Reagan-era New Mexico. A seemingly odd choice, but setting it in a desert during winter effectively recreates the barren Swedish landscape so vital to the mood of the original.
Despite the shaky camera you might expect from the guy behind Cloverfield, Let Me In is a beautifully shot film. We follow Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a grade school kid from a divorced family. He gets brutally bullied at school and always appears on edge. Smit-McPhee is a gifted child actor, able to convey raw emotion without resorting to the usual screams and hollers.
When the new neighbor, Abby (Chloe Moretz), moves in next door with what appears to be her father (Richard Jenkins), Owen spies on them like he does the others in his apartment block. It’s not until he’s quietly humming to himself in the courtyard that Abby appears behind him, and an unlikely friendship forms between them. This earnest, aching friendship also translates well. Moretz may not be as effective Lina Leandersson’s tormented vampire, but she’s still a young actress to watch.
Adding in more unneeded expletives and more special effects were the biggest drawbacks to this version. It’s not necessary for a grade school bully to spout profanity to show his brutality; maybe that’s just in Sweden, though.
The special effects used to make Abby a quick-moving killer add kinetic intensity. However, giving her a Batman-esque deep voice when she’s angry kind of takes away from the mystery and overall effect of her character.
All of this being said, the blood splatter is still made into a thing of beauty when she springs for the kill. The haunting look on her face when she enters Owen’s apartment without permission resonates, as does the shot where she comes up behind him covered in blood and lovingly embraces him.
Reeves is at his best when he doesn’t copy shot sequences from the original, which thankfully is most of the time. There’s a brilliantly done sequence in which Abby’s guardian/servant goes out to collect her blood. Laying in the backseat of a car he broke into with a garbage bag masking his face, he waits for the kill. It all seems to be going according to plan, until another person gets into the car. Reeves brings a level of unnerving suspense. When the killer finally makes his move, the camera stays inside the car as he makes an attempted getaway. This sequences recalls Hitchcock as much as it does Children of Men.
Keeping this story simple was key to its success, allowing the complicated emotions to flow out of the story and collect like a pool of blood. Burgeoning sexuality, gender identity, and the complications that arise simply by being different are handled so seamlessly by this story that you’ll be surprised how something so straight-forward can make you think. No matter what language it’s told in, the message resonates.