Let Me In (2010)

10 Feb

LET ME IN

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

This was not supposed to happen—I was not supposed to receive much from a remake of a great movie that came out almost two years after the original. I was a big fan of the original Swedish film “Let the Right One In” and so, I had my doubts about this American remake entitled “Let Me In,” directed by Matt Reeves, whose previous directorial effort was 2008’s “Cloverfield.” This new movie is faithful to the original, but a few changes have been made to make it even more effective. Those who saw the original film and see this new one will know the changes I’m talking about. But I was far from offended. I think these changes helped the story a lot. For example, the motives of the adult “father” to the vampire girl (for those who haven’t seen or heard of the original, I’ll get to the vampire part soon) are explained more clearly…but also in a subtle way. In the original film, I didn’t quite understand the relationship of the little vampire girl and her adult guardian who could be her father but then again could not be. There are a couple of scenes in this remake that explain it a bit more and then there is one shot that sums everything up—it involves a picture, that’s all I will say. I was satisfied by this subtle explanation—in fact, I was satisfied by a lot of elements in “Let Me In.”

The storyline remains the same in “Let Me In.” Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, the talented young actor from “The Road”) is a twelve-year-old, lonely boy who is severely bullied by sadistic bullies at school. When he is alone, he repeats the bullies’ dialogue as he stabs a tree multiple times. This brings the attention of a mysterious girl that just moved in the apartment next door to him—her name is Abby (played by Chloe Grace Moretz, “Kick-Ass”) and she is a vampire. She lives with a middle-aged man (reliable character actor Richard Jenkins) who is believed to be her “father” but maybe something more, as we see in a few key scenes. Owen and Abby become great friends and their relationship is dangerous because Owen doesn’t know that Abby is a vampire—he doesn’t know that The Father kills for blood in order to feed Abby. But Abby would never let anything happen to Owen and she gives him the strength that he needs.

I was intrigued by the relationship of these two twelve-year-old kids in the original film and I am just as intrigued here. Unlike the relationship between Bella and Edward Cullen in the Twilight Saga, this is a relationship that actually feels real and risky—there is no sex in this movie, but there are sensuous moments in which Abby goes into Owen’s bed while naked (no nudity is shown) and other moments when Owen and Abby share warm hugs when they realize they need each other. This relationship never states that dating a vampire is fun and games—it could be dangerous.

These two kids live in a dangerous world where bad things can and will happen. I mentioned the bullies’ sadistic behavior. These kids are more brutal than the kids in the original film and that’s quite an accomplishment indeed—we get many nasty scenes of the bullies’ terrible behavior. They pull his underwear up so tight that he wets himself, the leader of the bullies strikes him hard across the face with a pointer stick, and they try to push him into a hole in an icy pond. But that’s Owen’s problem. Abby’s problem is that she needs blood to eat in order to survive. This leaves opportunity for horror elements—The Father is killing innocent people and draining them of their blood to put it into a jug. There’s one scene that is absolutely incredible—I’m not going to give much away, but it involves The Father’s latest victim of murder in a car. The outcome of this scene is the best movie car wreck I’ve seen in a long, long time, seen through an unmoving POV shot inside the car! This is an absolutely fantastic shot. There are many other shots that are great, but that’s because director Matt Reeves drops his “Cloverfield” style of directing (camera shaking for intensity) and focuses on what is most important in the shots. He even goes as far as keeping Owen’s stressed, divorced mother (Cara Buono) out of focus throughout her scenes. He knows it’s more important to capture Owen’s expressions in these scenes, and we can hear Mom’s suffering in her voice when she talks to Dad on the phone. This is one of the best-looking movies of 2010; wonderfully well-made.

This movie is set in 1983, which leaves many Reagan-era touches, such as Ms. Pac Man and songs by Blue Oyster Cult. Most notably are the haunting references to the candy Now and Later, as well as Reagan’s television speeches about good and evil. Suitably, there is a character known only as The Detective (Elias Koteas) who goes through town investigating the murders, believing it to be the work of “Satanists.” A word about the new character of The Detective—I do admit that the town-adult subplots in the original film seemed unnecessary with a somewhat weak payoff. If you recall the original, you recall the woman who is turned into a vampire and the husband who is investigating what is happening when his friends are murdered. The latter is transformed into The Detective for “Let Me In” and we only see him (and the woman, of course) when we absolutely need to.

Aside from how great-looking and well-developed the story is in “Let Me In,” what will really draw the most attention are the excellent performances from the actors. Kodi Smit-McPhee, who was very effective as the little boy in a damaged world in “The Road,” is a boy in a world that may as well be damaged. We believe in Owen, we care for him, and we want things to go well for him. This is a kid we definitely don’t want bad things to happen to. Even more effective about his performance is his reaction shots—when he’s not talking, he listens and learns important things about this situation. In the first most effective terrifying moment in the final half, we feel his fear. Also very strong is Chloe Grace Moretz as Abby. Moretz gave “Kick-Ass” its energy (and controversy, I know) and in “Let Me In,” she plays an even more complicated character and pulls it off. Richard Jenkins, who doesn’t have much dialogue, lets us know what he’s thinking with just his expressions and the intensity in his murders.

To me, “Let Me In” is one of the best movies of 2010. It’s definitely the best remake of the year—a step or two above the remake of “The Karate Kid,” which I liked. Yes, we’ve seen vampire romance many times before and we have the original film, but “Let Me In” is a lot better than you might expect. For one thing, it doesn’t treat this relationship with sexuality but with the loneliness of childhood as these kids are on the brink of adolescence. Don’t be expecting a “vampire movie” if you see this movie. Expect something a lot more.

NOTE: I should also mention that there are some genuinely terrifying moments in “Let Me In,” the two most effective come in the film’s final half. I won’t go into the first one, but I will say this about the second one—if you’ve seen the original film, you know there is a swimming pool scene. If you were terrified of that scene in the original, there is a chance you will breathe heavily and recoil in your seat in the theater…I did.

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