September 30, 2010

Let Me In

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A movie review by James Berardinelli



Let Me In

HORROR/ROMANCE:

United States, 2010

U.S. Release Date:

2010-10-01

Running Length:

1:55

MPAA Classification:

R (Violence, Profanity,Sexual Content, Nudity, Drugs)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

2.35:1

Cast:

Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Cara Buono

Director:

Matt Reeves

Screenplay:

Matt Reeves, based on Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Cinematography:

Greig Fraser

Music:

Michael Giacchino

U.S. Distributor:

Overture Pictures

Subtitles:

none


Let Me In is the English-language remake of the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In. From the beginning, there has been controversy associated with the "Hollywood-ization" of an edgy, ambiguous vampire tale because many die-hard adherents believed that much of what made Let the Right One In would be compromised in order to appeal to a mainstream American audience. There is some validity to this concern, and it is borne out in the product that has reached the screen. Putting that aside, however, Let Me In represents one of the best and most brutal vampire movies to come along in a while and, despite presenting a romance of sorts between a human boy and a vampire girl, it will not remind many viewers of Twilight. In fact, Let Me In is about as far away from Twilight as one can get, and that's a good thing.

Although the general thrust of the narrative remains similar to that of Let the Right One In, there are two major differences, both of which are designed to make the film more generally accessible. One of the ambiguities of the original, relating to the motivations of the "father" character, have been clarified in Let Me In. More notable, however, is the removal of the split-second WTF scene that became one of the most discussed aspects of Let the Right One In. Not only is the shot missing but so are its implications. (If you have seen Let the Right One In, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, it's irrelevant.)

The setting is the early 1980s in Los Alamos. The time frame is important since this is before many of today's technological innovations were available: no cell phones, no DNA testing, no omnipresent security cameras capturing every movement. Translating Let the Right One In to 2010 would have required major reworking by writer/director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield). And Los Alamos in the winter bears more than a passing resemblance to Stockholm. In fact, if not for the fact that everyone is speaking English, one might mistake Let Me In for a foreign film.

Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an undersized, geeky 12-year old who is smart, friendless, and frequently bullied at school. When Abby (Chloe Moretz) moves into the next-door apartment along with her "father" (Richard Jenkins), he is naturally drawn to her. Haggard, bare-footed, and claiming not to notice the cold, she is even more of an oddball than he is. Despite her assertion that they cannot become friends, a bond forms. They communicate through the common wall between their apartments using Morse code. She gives him advice about how to handle bullies. He invites her into his home when his mother is not around. What we recognize long before Owen does is that Abby is a vampire whose "meals" are provided by the elderly gentleman who shares her apartment. When he is unable to fulfill her needs, she goes out on her own. They live in constant fear of being caught and, when Abby unwisely chooses a victim from among the other apartment renters, she brings an investigating policeman (Elias Koteas) dangerously close.

Although fans of Let the Right One In will almost certainly be disappointed by the alterations made to the narrative, Let Me In nevertheless stands well above the "average" vampire film. Also, these are "old school" bloodsuckers who burst into flame (instead of sparkling) when exposed to the sun. Taken on its own terms, this is a compelling motion picture possessing an uncommon level of sophistication for an American-made horror film. Of course, Let the Right One In was more of a coming-of-age drama than straight horror film. The tone of Let Me In is openly romantic but the horror elements are also italicized. In terms of how the principal characters relate to one another, this film bears a stronger resemblance to Rob Reiner's Flipped than to any of the Twilight movies.

One aspect of Let Me In that makes this motion picture unique is the sense of pathos underlying the various relationships. Owen is a loner whose literally faceless mother (Reeves shoots actress Cara Buono in such a manner that the camera never captures her features) is little more than a footnote in his life. He is drawn to Abby because she shows an interest in him and his tentative question of whether they can "go steady" is an indication of how desperate he is for any kind of meaningful human interaction. For her part, she is torn between Owen and her "father." The older man and she are like a long-time wedded couple who have grown apart during the many years they have spent together. There is still affection between them but the love that brought them together has long since burned out. Abby's flirtation with Owen ignites the same fire as a married woman having an affair. The newness and excitement of the relationship is in contrast with the routine disappointment of what she has with her "father." For his part, the "father" sees what is happening and knows he is being replaced. The pain of his situation is evident when Abby refuses his request that she stop seeing "the boy." Of course, there's no actual sex in the movie, but the subtext isn't hard to read.

Excellent performances are one of Let Me In's strengths. Kodi Smit-McPhee, who played the son in The Road, is credible as a boy trapped by feelings and realizations no one his age should be forced to confront. While romancing Abby, he shows the perfect mix of boldness and shyness, and the fear he exhibits when confronted by bullies at school is real enough to be haunting. Meanwhile, Chloe Moretz, although arguably too attractive to play Abby (who was envisioned as more androgynous in Let the Right One In), provides a moving interpretation of a vampire who has accepted her place in the food chain and what it means for those around her. Her life is a constant struggle to survive. Moretz displays genuine affection for Owen; we don't suspect her merely of using him. In a supporting role, Richard Jenkins is as good as always, lending sympathy and dignity to a difficult role. We don't learn much about his character but a few glances into his eyes and a glimpse of a black-and-white photograph tell us all we need to know.

Admittedly, the special effects, which appear to consist of a combination of CGI and speeded-up live action, don't work well. They're more cheesy than effective, as occasional bursts of laughter in the audience indicated. But visual chicanery is only a minor aspect of what Let Me In has to offer and, for the most part, it accomplishes what it sets out to do. There are horror elements in evidence - brutal, benighted attacks; severed limbs and heads; blood gushing from opened arteries - but those are ultimately overshadowed by the human aspects. One can complain about the differences between Let the Right One In and Let Me In, but there is one critical constant: both movies are about the introverted outcasts of society and the connections they make with one another. It's important not to overlook that this is a sold, accomplished effort.

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