It is an interesting thing to watch a film who’s source material I know so well, and in more than one format. I will, for the purposes of this review, try my best to focus on this film and not the other material. I am a huge fan of the novel… which is a different beast from the original Swedish film (Let the Right One In[reviewed here at MrBlahg.com as a DVD of the Week])… and now to see the American remake, produced only 2 years after the original film, which relies heavily on the film and only a smidgen from the novel. It was my hope when I first heard about this remake that the director, Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), would have gone to the novel and come up with a fresh approach… alas, my wish was not fulfilled. But wish fulfillment does not a great film make… and I would still consider Let Me In to be a great film.
Set in Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1983, 12 year old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is seen being tormented by some of the most brutal bullies imaginable. Perhaps because I was 12 at the time, perhaps because it’s in English and taking place in an America I immediately recognize as that of my childhood… but the bullies were terrifying to me… or rather, the head bully if you will. This seemed to me to be very effective… the idea that in what is obstinately a vampire movie, it’s a schoolyard bully is the true monster. Owen has his own little fantasies brought on through the helplessness he feels… fantasies of stabbing and verbally abusing his torturers in the same way he is at their hands. Friendless and lonely, Owen is startled to see a young girl on the jungle gym in the center of his nondescript apartment building’s courtyard. She immediately tells him they cannot be friends… The young girl is Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz), a girl who describes herself as “12… more or less”. Owen notices she doesn’t wear shoes in the snow and smells bad… there is something “off” about her and her father who moved in next door to Owen. Spoiler alert (hardly): she’s the vampire.
Although this is a vampire film, I can’t stress enough how little vampirism seems to matter in this story. Yes, it’s what propels everything… but ultimately it’s a story of predators… a story of the prey and his ability to gain some self respect by fighting back… and hanging over everything in this tale like lichens hanging from a tree is the love story. Romeo and Juliet for a more Gothic and underage crowd. Watching a love story between 12 year olds is odd enough… watching a love story between a human boy and vampire… girl (?) is a whole other game.
The performances by the two main characters, Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) and Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass) are quite frankly amazing. He has some otherworldly, almost alien look about him… yet his skinny frame and soulful eyes bring my back to my lanky awkward years and give him an emotional heft rarely seen in actors regardless of age. Then there is Miss Moretz…. I honestly cannot say enough about this young woman. She is amazing. She is 13 and hopefully on her way to a rich and storied career. She gives off the vibe of someone way ahead of her years (which for this story works far more perfectly than you could imagine), someone in control of her abilities, a preternaturally gifted actress whom I hope to see far more of in the future. My wife made an off hand comment this morning as I was telling her about the movie that I was waiting for her to turn 18… as a father to two girls I was immediately repulsed by what she was implying… but on the other hand, she’s right. I cannot wait to see where her career takes her. She has been in three radically different movies this year (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Kick-Ass and Let Me In), and she has been the stand out in all three. From what I’ve read about her relationship with her parents, they seem to be keeping her very well grounded and not headed down the well worn road of previous child actors and actresses. Finally I have to mention Richard Jenkins as Abby’s caretaker/guardian… the man can do no wrong. Such a gifted character actor. You feel his pain… you feel his sense of love and remorse. Very well done.
As for directorial decisions… some I liked a great deal, others not so much. I may have to do a few comparisons with the original film here… If you have not seen the original, stop reading now and scroll down to the trailer. If you have but don’t want to know what’s different between the two, stop reading now. I’ll make this brief. A difference I liked: No CGI cats. Two differences I was somewhat indifferent to: Detective has a bigger role and the gore is slightly amped up. Nothing too graphic, but occasionally unnecessary. And finally, four differences I did not like: When she attacks now it’s in fast, herky jerky CGI… they eliminated the “scene of ambiguity” (if you’ve seen the original you know what I mean)… they eliminated the line where she gets upset with him because “I have to kill, you want to”… and finally, they allude to what many people suspected, that the caretaker was with her since he was a boy, thus leading you to believe Owen will become her new caretaker and that’s the reasoning behind her befriending him. I hate this last bit. The novel is very explicit about where the caretaker came from and his role in her life.
A very worthwhile film to spend your hard earned dollars on. It has a great emotional resonance as well as some truly frightening moments. Generally considered a horror film, I can only see it as a romance with horror elements. The vampire does not sparkle and you will squirm at 12 year olds feeling around the edges of adolescent love. Although lacking in the foreignness the Swedish original held (unless you are Swedish… than perhaps this is creepier)… the tone is right on and I only wish I could erase the memories of the previous incarnations for two hours and see this film in it’s own right. If the only purpose of this remake were to ensure more people saw this story, than kudos to that.
Enjoy the trailer, and get out to see this movie!
Vamping it up,
Cornelius J. Blahg