Let Me In ★★★½
(USA/UK, 115 min)
Written and directed by Matt Reeves
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Elias Koteas, Richard Jenkins.
Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a lonely boy in search of a friend. Being a frail, rather introverted kid, Owen is frequently picked on at school. Since he’s a loner, he has nobody around to defend him. Owen is equally defenseless and isolated at home. His parents are divorced: Owen’s father is wholly absent from is life and Owen lives with his mother, a woman so apathetic and faceless he may as well live alone in his isolated apartment complex – it often seems like he’s the only one there, anyways. Things change, though, when a new family moves into the neighbouring unit. That family includes Abby (Chloe Moretz), a girl Owen’s age whom he tries to befriend. There’s only one problem: Abby is a vampire.
Revealing Abby’s identity hardly spoils anything. Writer/director Matt Reeves gives plenty of hints early on. Moreover, Let Me In is a remake of the popular 2008 Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In. The former film transports the fairy tale from the snowy Swedish countryside to a snowy non-descript town in Reagan-era America. Owen’s neighbourhood could be anywhere in small town USA, but it could be anywhere in Sweden just as well. Despite the similarities in setting, Let Me In is hardly a shot for shot remake of the original. It’s not a re-imagining either. Rather, Let Me In tells roughly the same story as Let the Right One In, and it tells it just as well.
Reeves’ version certainly has a brisker pace than its prototype does. Let the Right One In featured a little more of the horrific acts by Abby’s father figure. Let Me In, conversely, features one or two scenes of the man (Richard Jenkins) on the hunt for blood for Abby. These scenes, and the few scenes of Abby on the prowl, are perhaps the best indicators of the stylistic differences between the two films: in the new film, they’re over fairly quickly, yet they feature more red corn syrup than the Swedish film had altogether. The horror scenes in particular feature highly stylized lighting: while Let the Right One In was a fairly bright production, Let Me In treads more in the vein of Hollywood conventions in which darkness and shadows are predominant in horror films. In the case of Let Me In, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing – the superior production value of the film demonstrates how the effective use of cinematic elements can enhance a picture. On the other hand, the overbearing score of Let Me In reveals that sometimes, like with Let the Right One In, a production can be equally enriched by its sparsity.
This is not to say that Let Me In is an “all style, no substance” rehash of a successful picture. Some recent American bastardizations, like last year’s Brothers, basically just reshoot the script with better film stock and sexier leads, yet produce a completely hollow and meaningless film. Let Me In, however, retains the same level of character development and narrative engagement as the original, and since it does so by exploiting traits of Hollywood horror films, the film still feels authentic. Part of the success derives from how the studio chose the right actors to revive the roles: Kodi Smit-McPhee is actually more affective than his predecessor and shows noticeable growth as an actor since his breakout role in last year’s The Road. Chloe Moretz is just as subdued as Lina Leandersson’s vampire, although at times, it seems that she (or Reeves) makes too much of an effort to replicate Leandersson’s spectacular performance. She’s creepy, nonetheless.
If Let Me In doesn’t really do anything new, some may ask what necessity there was in producing it. Well, for those who haven’t seen Let the Right One In, Let Me In will provide plenty of scares and an engrossing tale of child’s play gone awry. Moreover, Let Me In might spark enough interest in viewers to seek out the original. Since Let the Right One In is an equally accessible, but perhaps more artful, rendition of the tale, the likeness between the two films might provide the biggest shock of all: subtitles are not that scary.