Let Me In
Following hot on the heels of Tomas Alfredson’s widely lauded Let The Right One In (2008), Matt Reeves’ Let Me In resolutely lays to rest fears of another Hollywood remake travesty and is a ‘must see’ for all genre fans and lovers of cinema. Taking on many of the best aspects of the Swedish original as well as other selected elements direct from the source material (John Ajvide Lindqvist’s 2004 novel Låt den rätte komma in) Reeves’ adaptation remains true to the quietly eerie tone of both whilst being a convincing entity in and of itself. Finally, a recent piece of vampire fiction worthy of its rich literary and cinematic heritage, in a choice of two enticing languages and contexts!
An outsider romance-horror, Let Me In explores the bleak, brow-beaten world of pre-teen schoolboy Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Road) as he grasps at some sense of balance and power in the midst of bullying and parental breakup. Then suddenly everything seems to be changing for the better when young loner Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz – Kick-Ass) moves into the apartment next door with her father (Richard Jenkins – The Visitor), and subsequently into Owen’s life. Overcoming a cold first encounter (emotional and literal) each soon discovers in the other a kindred spirit. And though she displays a capacity to galvanise strength in Owen that he wasn’t aware he possessed, too soon he discovers that all is not as straightforward as it appears. You see, Abby has dark, dark secret; one that Owen is not sure that he can get past.
Credit must go to director Matt Reeves for the level of restraint he displays putting this film together. He made a point of going back to the source novel’s author to talk about the best way to adapt the film for the English speaking (read: American) market and the resulting film bears witness to the positive effect this had. The filmmaker resisted any notion of making the story’s protagonists older in order to milk more out of a possible romantic/sexual storyline, instead recognising that much of the film’s power and creepiness is derived from the contrast of youthful innocence with the seeming necessity of brutality and violence. The film is cast exceptionally well – the youthful stars shouldering the dramatic weight of the piece like seasoned pros – with shooting to match. Whether following the path of cars driving a snowy road through a forest (as in the opening scene) or lingering on the expressive faces of our young leads, cinematographer Greig Fraser (Bright Star, Out of the Blue) frames in a thoughtful, effective manner making this film a visual treat.
The key facets of the film that let it down a little are the score/sound design and a penchant towards over-exposition via the mise-en-scène; proving Let Me In, in the time honoured tradition of remakes, to be the lesser cousin of Alfredson’s original. Instead of letting the tension arise primarily out of the creepy series events/revelations unfolding in the narrative Reeves and team rely too much on an, oft-times, intrusive score to direct emotional response rather than giving the narrative aural space to do its work. And the filmmakers seem to be in two minds about how much credit to give the audience: at times letting gesture, expression, or simply the oddness in a statement or event spark the audience to thinking/observing, while at others visually or aurally corralling the viewer towards a particular revelation or significant moment.
The other contentious point surrounding Reeves’ supposed straight-from-the-book adaptation is that for much of its runtime it mirrors Alfredson’s Let The Right One In SHOT FOR SHOT. Not that this is a completely bad thing considering how good the original is! On the other hand, Reeve’s has done a great job transplanting the story from a Stockholm suburb in the 1980s to an equally frigid 1980s Los Alamos, New Mexico. The director foregrounds characters not so present in the original film – such as a greater focus on the policeman’s hunt for answers, played here by a dogged Elias Koteas (Shutter Island) – whilst effectively dropping others, such as Owen’s father and his storyline, from the picture. The remake also does a better job of realising the book’s description of the basement hangout under Owen and Abby’s building. On top of this Reeves adds a religious/political layer directly relating to the American context in which his film is set, as evidenced by the Ronald Reagan speech snippets about the country facing down great ’evils’ on a TV in the background of one of the opening scenes and also in the contentious religious touch-points throughout the film. This is far from inferiority at every turn.
Even with its minor faults, such as they are, Let Me In is twice the film that most of recent supernatural/vampire fodder have been. If Reeves stated purpose was to bring Lindqvist and Alfredson’s story/film to the attention of a wider audience than it would otherwise get (being a foreign language book/film) then he has not only achieved this goal, but achieved it with style and with merit beyond simply being a gateway remake.
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell