Say what you will about remakes, and also about the current vampire craze that’s swept the globe lately, but when they’re done right in both respects it’s certainly something to cheer about. A lot was working against Matt Reeves (director of Cloverfield) adaptation of the Swedish Let the Right One In (adapted by the original novel’s author John Ajvide Lindqvist and directed by Tomas Alfredson), but this new Americanized remake, Let Me In, manages to distinguish itself while paying true reverence to its source materials.
Vampire lore sure seems to be getting pounded into the dirt these days. Whether they’re walking around in the gloomy daylight of Washington or saving themselves for marriage, people sure seem to be trying way too hard to romanticize this particular breed of antagonist. Anyone who knows anything about vampires should be smart enough to realize that real vampires cannot walk during the day, drink human blood to sustain “life,” and have to be allowed into your place of living. Hopefully Let Me In will reawaken audiences as to how a vampire film is supposed to be – dark, moody and bloody violent.
The story remains the same but the structure seems to be a little different; however, all things considered we still get the lonely story of two 12-year-olds (one more or less) set in a bleakly confined and snowy region, this time set in 1983 Los Alamos, N.M.
Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is bullied at school every day by Kenny (Dylan Minnette) and his band of misfits. He takes out his repressed aggression nightly on a tree trunk with a knife while asking, “Are you scared little girl?” One night while playing Rear Window in his bedroom, he spies a new girl moving in with a man who would appear to be her father (Richard Jenkins). Her name is Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz), she doesn’t wear shoes in the snow, she doesn’t attend Owen’s school, likes puzzles, informs Owen they can never be friends and tells him on more than a few occasions that she’s “not a girl.”
Owen disregards all these things and pursues a “friendship” of sorts nevertheless. They only meet at night, decide to go “steady,” and play arcade games when Abby isn’t throwing up after eating Now and Laters. What Abby needs and what Owen hasn’t figured out yet is that Abby is a vampire and has been 12 years old for a very long time. When a few people go missing, including a neighbor in the apartment complex, and Abby goes bonkers after Owen wants to make a blood pact, the cat’s out of the bag but still Owen doesn’t care as Abby seems to be the only person who truly cares for him.
Amping up the creep factor for Owen is just the start of what Reeves has changed for the better. In the original the two leads gave their all but they were portrayed far more innocently and here the relationships between Owen and Abby, as well as Abby and her Father, feel much deeper, ultimately making for a much sadder version if that’s possible. Here I found Smit-McPhee much more likeable than I did last time he was on-screen in the far overhyped The Road. There I felt like his character was far too whiney and a bit of a pussy to be the post-apocalyptic son of both Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron. This is how that character should have been portrayed but I already know that I am in a huge minority of people who did not like The Road.
As for Chloe Moretz, here’s a 13-year-old actress to reckon with. After the double whammy of this and her stunt as Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass, not to discount her turns as the too-smart-for-her-own-age younger sister of Joseph Gordon-Levitt in (500) Days of Summer and the only thing watchable in the awful Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I have to say that she’s far better a young actress than most could dream (we’re all looking at you, Dakota Fanning).
Then there’s director Matt Reeves. Along with composer Michael Giacchino, cinematographer Greig Fraser and editor Stan Salfas, he’s showing just how much game he has even when not under the watchful eye of his Bad Robot mentor J.J. Abrams. While you may have seen everything that happens here before and not too long ago at that, he still brings a sense of new to the proceedings, even providing a car crash seemingly filmed in one take that will literally take your breath away, and makes you care more for the characters than the first time around. Even when one is a sociopath in the making and the other is a blood-sucking vampire.
There are a few instances of obvious CGI but it never takes away from anything and all the key scenes are firmly in place – the hospital fire, the Fatherly blood collections and of course the almighty swimming pool. Unfortunately, the swimming pool scene is just about the only part where things veer away from greatness. The staging is nowhere near as graceful and the impact lessened. This is the homerun scene in the original and here it feels like just another splattery horror movie ending. But when two minutes is all I have the slightest complaints about, I’d say Reeves has managed to deliver a homerun of his own all around.
Photo courtesy Overture Films