As a writer, I’ve always lived by the familiar maxim “All great writing is rewriting.” No matter how much you love your latest piece, it can always be improved by setting it aside for a while and then returning to it with fresh eyes. It now appears the same may also apply to making movies.
The new vampire movie Let Me In is an example of brilliant re-moviemaking. It is a remake of Let the Right One In, a Swedish horror movie from 2008. Or I should rephrase that. As bloody and horrific as these two movies are at times, they aren’t really horror movies at all. They are tales of young love filled with the growing pains of adolescence.
Twelve-year-old Owen (the mesmerizing Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a troubled schoolboy, tortured mercilessly by bullies. He escapes each day into his private obsessions including peeping on his apartment complex neighbors through a telescope and listening through the wall to arguments between the new girl and her father next door.
One day while taking out his frustrations by stabbing a tree with a knife, accusing it of being a girl, the very thing the bullies accused him of being, he turns to see that strange girl standing on a jungle gym behind him. She simply appears as if in response to his actions. It is a scene taken from both the earlier movie and its source novel. It’s a fascinatingly suggestive scene.
The girl, Abby, is played by Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass). In the course of three movie-stealing roles this year starting with Diary of a Wimpy Kid, she has become the brightest young star in movies today. She displays poise and range well beyond her 13 years. Here she trades in her Kick-Ass trash-talking for something altogether different, a dark, brooding intensity.
Abby is a monster. She needs blood to survive. She drifts back and forth between sweet and charming when with someone she allows to get close, like Owen, and demonic when transformed by the pulsing veins of a victim. These scenes are chilling, even if the CGI is obvious.
The core of the story – and why we are being told the story at this particular time during Abby’s eternal torment – is that her protector, an aging man thought of by outsiders as her father, is getting careless. His job is to take the risks by going out into the night, killing lone victims, draining their blood into a jug, and returning home to her.
But he’s lately failing at his purpose and – as others before him – is in need of being replaced. Enter young Owen, a boy who is drawn to Abby and sees in her a potential first girlfriend – even though she warns him, “I’m not a girl.” Their relationship will develop into something touching and something they both desperately need. He will, of course, become the next in her never ending line of protectors.
This remake is not quite perfect. Its climactic scene at a school swimming pool is not as sharply realized as its predecessor and the character of Abby’s outgoing protector suffered a loss of some depth and richness as the coming-of-age romance more solidly took center stage.
Still, with its many improvements – including a knockout car sequence that left me breathless – Let Me In proves that some great moviemaking can be great re-moviemaking. And this is a rare remake, so moving at its core, that I’d happily see it re-remade again and again.