Let Me In

Reviewed By Rob Gonsalves
Posted 10/03/10 11:32:47

"If you liked the original..."
5 stars (Awesome)

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chlo Moretz are the best reasons to see "Let Me In," the new American remake of Sweden's 2008 "Let the Right One In", though they're not the only reasons.

Their performances as Owen, a bullied, scared 12-year-old, and Abby, a strange girl who's just moved next door to him, are delicate and beautifully calibrated. The movie itself which drops the original film's problematic cat-attack scene has not one discordant note in it. In some ways, Let Me In feels more like a European art-house film than the original did. You expect a Swedish film to brood quietly and disregard American mainstream attention spans. You don't expect a horror film playing in just over 2,000 theaters nationwide to follow suit. Am I saying that Let Me In trumps its predecessor? Let's say each film has its strengths; the American remake stands honorably on its own and, to these American eyes, boasts better acting. They're two excellent treatments of the same story. One just happens to be in English.

Director Matt Reeves did not begin his career auspiciously. His debut was not 2008's Cloverfield, as I'm sure he'd like you to believe, but the all-but-forgotten 1996 David Schwimmer vehicle The Pallbearer. Among other foibles, the film did not play like the Graduate riff it was pitched as; it was ineffably glum and dark. Such was the reception of The Pallbearer that Reeves did not direct again for twelve years, when longtime buddy J.J. Abrams (with whom Reeves had created TV's Felicity) handed him the keys to Cloverfield. I can say for certain now, thinking back on The Pallbearer through the prism of Let Me In, that Reeves has not only a talent but a taste for understated gloom.

The ads have spoiled it, so I'm not afraid to: Abby is not a normal girl. She travels with a much older man (Richard Jenkins), whom everyone takes to be her father, though she most likely has a few years on him. Abby is a vampire; she hungers for blood and nothing else she can't even hold down a bit of candy and her stomach growls and revolts painfully when she hasn't fed in a while. The older man is charged with getting blood for her, which usually means subduing some teenager, hanging him upside down, and cutting his jugular. (This effect is accomplished here more subtly, and thus more convincingly, than in the original.) Owen knows nothing of this; all he knows is that he's glad of her attention any positive attention and he really likes her. Like, likes her likes her.

As in the original, this romance between a human and a vampire is much darker and more complex than anything in the Twilight saga. Does Abby feel any affection for Owen? Or is she simply eyeing him as a replacement for the increasingly ineffectual older man (who, we learn from a photo, joined her at an age close to Owen's)? Kodi Smit-McPhee effortlessly puts across Owen's fear at school (I also have to commend Dylan Minnette, who creates a realistically intimidating bully whose sadism is rooted in being bullied by his older brother), his sadness at turning invisible during his parents' contentious divorce, his flickers of hope and happiness whenever he sees Abby. As for Chlo Moretz, she's having a banner year (Diary of a Wimpy Kid and especially Kick-Ass), and her work here should write her a one-way ticket to whatever she wants. She isn't around as much as Smit-McPhee, but Moretz makes her presence felt throughout the film; indeed, in her last two scenes we don't see her face at all. What Moretz nails more than anything is the sense that Abby would like to be optimistic about her new friendship would like to see it become something deeper than just a new delivery system for blood but can't quite bring herself to hope, because she's seen too much, suffered too much. (Also, Abby's ambiguous nature, much talked about in the original but reportedly dropped from the remake, is still there if you know to look for it, suggesting pain that goes beyond just being a vampire.)

If you love "Let the Right One In" and looked askance at the idea of a remake, I shared your skepticism, but the movie won me over. It doesn't replace the original, which is still right there on the shelf. It retains the original's quiet strengths and earns its wings as the vehicle by which American subtitle-phobes will watch this story. If you haven't seen the original, that just means you have two treats in store.

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