Saturday, October 2, 2010

Let Me In (***1/2)

Written for the Screen and Directed by Matt Reeves


When I saw the 2008 Swedish film Let The Right One In, I was blown away. This doesn't happen to me often when it comes to horror films - particularly ones about vampires. So, there was some trepidation when I first heard that there would be an American remake. With the Twilight craze at the multiplexes and the HBO show True Blood becoming a huge success on television, it would be so easy to take the modest brilliance of the first film and turn it into another lazy horror romance (with the blatant sexuality of True Blood mixed with the chaste, teasing nature of Twilight, I think they've essentially maxed out their audience with vampire films). Luckily for fans of the original Swedish film, Let Me In is a faithful remake that compliments itself and the original quite exquisitely.

All the same plot points are there: Owen (The Road's Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a fragile, soft-spoken young man, who lives alone with his pious, alcoholic mother (Cara Buono). His parents are going through a tumultuous divorce, and his mother doesn't even allow him to speak to his father. Owen's only outlets seem to be Now and Later candies, and putting on ominous masks while having fantasies of being a threatening, violent figure - stabbing trees with pocket knives, pretending their little girls. At school, he's tormented by a troubled bully (Dylan Minnette) who originally teases with innocent pranks in class, but quickly escalates to atomic wedgies and threats of further violence.

When Owen notices that he has new neighbors in the apartment next door, he quietly investigates from his window. He sees a young girl, walking in the snow with no shoes on, her eyes on the ground, looking inconspicuous. She's accompanied by a much older man (Richard Jenkins), who could only reasonably be her father. As Owen plays in the courtyard of his complex, playing out another one of his sadistic fantasies, he is visited by the shoeless young girl. Her name is Abby (Chloe Moretz, of Kick-Ass and 500 Days of Summer fame). She tells Owen almost immediately that she cannot be his friend, but she instantly intrigues him. When they meet again on the courtyard, he gives her a Rubik's Cube as a gift, and she solves it in one night.

The relationship between Owen and Abby grows quickly. He takes her to play video games in the local grocery store and he tries to buy her Now and Laters, but she declines. He doesn't ask her many questions about why she doesn't go to school or go out during the day, or about her mysterious father who takes suspicious trips out in the middle of the night. He just knows that he likes her very much, and soon, Abby shares his feelings. But as they become closer, Abby's real identity becomes clearer. She lives on human blood. When she doesn't seek out people to kill and suck out their blood, she asks her "father" to go out and murder men to drain out the blood for her. It becomes clear that Abby and her "father" (as we learn soon, it's actually her former lover now grown much older than her stunted age of 12) are responsible for a string of brutal murders in the city.

As a remake, Let Me In works because it's just close enough to the original to please fans of the 2008 version, but all its subtle changes actually improve the film. Not that Let Me In is better then Let The Right One In - I find it silly to compare the two since both are exceptional. I simply find them high-quality companion pieces. It's obvious that writer-director Matt Reeves (director of Cloverfield) is not interested in simply taking a successful foreign film and transforming it into his own. Instead, Reeves makes an almost identical film that pays homage to the original while also exposing American audiences to a film that they probably have never gotten around to seeing. If anything positive happens, let's hope its that more American moviegoers go back and watch the 2008 Swedish film. Because Let Me In is so delicate in its retelling, it doesn't feel like the fraudulence of Gus van Sant's version of Psycho or Michael Haneke's ill-conceived remake of his own film Funny Games.

But enough about Let The Right One In. Matt Reeve's film has many things that stand on its own. The performances of Smit-McPhee and Moretz are both satisfying in ways that help us understand their unorthodox romance. The film plays with that wobbling balance of innocence and sexuality. We're not chastised here the way we are with Twilight, that likes the idea of goading its audience with beautiful people on the screen. Instead, we are shown the bright insecurity of childhood, whether it be the need to experience love before we're ready to comprehend it or the chronic fear of bullying in middle school hallways. Few times has childhood been shown more accurately then here, capturing children's feverish fantasies and suppressed, misguided perversions.

It also works well as a suspense. Sure, I could call it Hitchcockian, but the more appropriate allusion is to early Polanski and the Stanley Kubrick of The Shining. With a subplot involving a dedicated police detective (played by a bespeckled Elias Koteas) searching for the people responsible for the gruesome murders, there is an interesting undercurrent of menace. We empathize with Abby for the entire film, because we can reconcile her addiction. But that does not mean that we shy away from her more ghastly characteristics. Based only on my memory, Let Me In seemed to be a lot more bloody and grisly then the original, but it doesn't feel like a remake's gluttonous revamping, but more like what the original would have done, had their budget been a bit more amiable.

It's a shame that this will be released within the vacuum of vampire mania, since most audiences may dismiss it as just one of many. It cuts deeper then the conflicts of most vampire flicks, treating vampirism more like an affliction. No sparkling in the daylight or abrasive sex covered in other people's guts, but a need for blood that matches a junkie's need for heroin. As I said before, I had my reservations when I heard Let The Right One In was going to be Americanized, but having seen it, I'm glad it has happen. I'm always happy to see a superior film in theaters, especially at a time when studios are trying less and less. But it's an American film that notices how evolved European films appear to be, and gives them credit. I like to see that modesty every now and then.

1 comment:

Heidi Germanaus said...

I loved the original and was concerned that the remake would be sub par. Going by your review as well as Rotten Tomato's I'm convinced it's definitely worth seeing.