If I had not seen the Tomas Alfredson’s original great 2008 film, Let the Right One In, I may not necessarily see Matt Reeves’ new American remake Let Me In as ultimately unnecesary. But I cannot unsee the greatness of the original and the bottom line is that this new remake just suffers by comparison. Despite the remake’s general competence and attempt to recreate the mood and tone of the original, I cannot bring myself to recommend to anyone to go out and seek this new version when there is a greater telling of this story already made.
The general story outline is pretty much the same, as based on the source novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (who also penned the original’s screenplay). A 12-year-old boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) leads a desolate life where he is cruelly bullied at school and essentially ignored by his divorced parents. A new pair of neighbors moves next door: a young girl, Abby (Chloe Moretz) and an older man (Richard Jenkins) who looks to be her father. The boy first sees a romantic interest in the girl until he finds that she is actually a vampire but the two soon form a deep, symbiotic friendship.
There are a few small story changes. Besides the setting being switched to New Mexico in 1983, we get the addition of a detective played by Elias Koteas investigating a series of grisly murders. There is also a flashback structure from a horrific event that is chronologically in the middle and a few characters here and there that are composited. But writer/director Reeves, who also said he thought the original was fantastic, simply cannot improve on the overall telling of the story.
One reason for that is this reinterpretation lacks subtlety. Every character detail is spelled out such as Abby saying, “I am a lot stronger than you think I am” or bluntly stating, “I need blood to live.” And what was told with restrained ambiguity and implication in the original film about Abby’s father figure is made clear much too early in the story here. It also does not help that Reeves chooses to telegraph every single potential horror or suspense moment with a thumping bass score by the usually great Michael Giacchino and even “codes” the camaraderie scenes between Owen and Abby with light melodious music. This removes the element of surprise and does not allow the relationship between Owen and Abby to gain its power from what is unspoken as much as what is unspoken.
That general on-the-nose approach also pervades to the depiction of violence and gore. While Alfredon’s original masterfully showed his horrific moments at medium distance to increase its quiet, matter-of-fact realism, Reeves goes the much more conventional route of close-up blood and gore. Then there are the vampire attack scenes when Abby attacks some people and turns her into a CGI creation that is about as convincing as Mighty Mouse. In addition, the monstrous figure she subsequently turns into is distractingly similar to one of the humanoid creatures from I Am Legend. And although Reeves stages one neat shot of a car crash entirely from the inside, the climactic pool scene that was so brilliantly staged in a single, almost hallucinogenic shot in the original is recreated more choppily and hastily here.
It is too bad that Reeves is not more restrained in his technique as he appears to have directed the actors to be more subdued. Kodi Smit-McPhee (who played Viggo Mortensen’s son in the film adaptation of The Road) and Chloe Moretz are actually pretty convincing in their low-key roles and that we do not feel their bond very strongly is not their fault (it is Reeves’ as his screenplay telegraphs most everything as mentioned). The ubiquitously reliable Richard Jenkins is also an inspired choice to play the “father” figure and he gets the best scene in the movie (which is not in the original) with Moretz, as she gently touches his face to comfort him amidst the dire life he leads to “protect” her (and this scene crucially does not have any background score). There is also a nice touch in how the face of Cara Buono as Owen’s morose mother is never quite seen onscreen to symbolize her emotional distance from her son.
Would this movie play differently and effectively to those who have not seen the original film? Quite possibly, but I do not know and personally I cannot even try to guess even vicariously as the original looms so tall in my mind (you can refer to my review of the original film to see why). What I do know is that Jean-Luc Godard once said, “In order to criticize a movie, you have to make another movie.” If this were to apply to remakes, then it means that remakes should only be made for films that can actually be improved upon rather than to cater to those who still ignorantly refuse to read subtitles. Otherwise, the remake’s critique is already made and, in this case, Alfredson’s Let the Right One In (which is available on DVD) offers far better criticism of Reeves’ Let Me In than I can express.
Bottom line: Close but no cigar.