If you are hoping to see a vampire film about sparkly hipster vampires who are basically amazing people that just happen to occasionally drink blood, Let Me In is not the film for you. While it might be going too far to call Let Me In a true horror story (it is more of a thriller with horror aspects – think Silence of the Lambs more than Saw) it is not a tale that glamorizes and mythologizes the vampire story – far from it. Let Me In returns the vampire myth to that which it came from, as a tale of the damned living a torturous life of isolation. From that starting point, the story becomes one of an unlikely friendship between two lonely, and slightly disturbed souls, and one that fans of the genre should definitely put on their list.
The story of a boy and his vampire
Let Me In takes place in 1982 in the town of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Owen, a 12-year old boy, is living a sad and lonely life, constantly suffering the attacks of bullies, and trying to cope with the divorce of his parents. He has no friends, and his mother is distant with a possible alcoholic streak. Life is rough for Owen, and his loneliness is slowly beginning to turn towards something much darker when he meets Abby, his new next door neighbor.
Abby appears to be girl of around 12 that, like Owen, lives an isolated life with a man that everyone assumes is her father. When they first meet, Abby tells Owen that they cannot be friends, but despite her intentions the two soon begin to form a bond. They begin to talk to each other in the courtyard of the apartment building they share, and when Owen (played by The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee) is hurt by bullies at school, Abby tells him that he must fight back, which sets off a chain of events that have lasting repercussions.
It quickly becomes apparent that Abby is not like other girls, but she and Owen continue to develop their friendship. Soon Owen realizes what Abby is, and events begin to head to a climax that will threaten them both.
The movie is the remake of the Swedish film Let The Right One In – while the original takes the name from the Morrisey song “Let the right one slip in,” the American title was shortened to refer to a piece of vampire lore that claims the vampire must be invited in to a person’s home. When it was announced that screenwriter and director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) would be remaking the movie that many considered to be a masterpiece, it was met with skepticism, to say the least. Both are based on the Swedish book Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindquist, and while both movies share the same source material there are a few important differences. If you have seen Let The Right One In and were worried about the remake cheapening the original, don’t. Reeves handles the material well and has made a movie fans can be proud of. It won’t win over every fan of the original, but it shouldn’t offend them either.
An old take on the vampire that feels fresh
The first and most obvious thing that will differentiate Let Me In from the slew of recent vampire movies that either show the vampire as a romantic icon, or as a demon in human form, is the portrayal of the condition by Abby, played incredibly well by Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass). Abby is neither evil nor romantic, and her condition is anything but enviable. She is a vampire, and it is a curse. Reeves chooses to only hint at Abby’s past rather than explain her condition, which helps to create a sense of mystery without adding any romantic notions to it. I personally would have liked a bit more history, but I understand the decision to keep it mystery.
Abby is simply a vampire, there is no noble or tragic explanation, which makes her situation far worse, but much more poignant to the audience. If Reeve’s had explained everything, which he could as the book has a great deal of detail about her past, it would have made the character less interesting and more predictable.
Moretz is definitely a young actor to watch. She stole the show in Kick-Ass, and does so again in Let Me In, which is saying quite a bit since she is surrounded by talent in every role. She manages to walk a fine line of believability as an immortal, and a girl that is 12-years old. It is a brilliant contradiction that not many actors her age could even come close to pulling off.
At the heart of the movie, beyond the horror and suspense aspects, is the friendship between Abby and Owen. Both are in their own private worlds, and they need each other to remain human, both figuratively and literally. Once Abby’s vampiric nature is revealed, and the true horror of what Abby is becomes clear, the friendship is tested in surprising ways.
Why you should always hire good actors
If this movie were made with lesser actors in the role, it could easily have become a parody that was hard to buy into. Fans of the original will probably take issue with the few instances of CGI that Reeves used to highlight the vampire side of Abby, and while they worked fine, it is mainly because Moretz is likeable enough that the instances work. They are slightly jarring and feel a bit out of place. It isn’t the best CGI, and the effects aren’t really necessary, but they don’t hurt the film either.
The key to this movie is the relationship between Abby and Owen, but that would not have worked if Owen’s interaction with others, notably the bullies at his school, had not helped to define the character. Smit-McPhee is generally overshadowed by Moretz, but while they share a good deal of screen time, Owen is the focus of the movie and his interactions set the stage for everything that happens at the end of the movie. Reeves needed a very talented actor to sell the character of Abby, but he also needed an equally talented actor to make the character of Owen more than just a vehicle for her.
The supporting cast also does a great job of filling their roles. Two actors that particularly stand out are Dylan Minnette (Saving Grace) as the bully that torments Owen with particularly efficient brutality, and Richard Jenkins (Step Brothers), who plays the man posing as Abby’s father. His story is tied so deeply to the plot, and it features some of the best surprises, so to detail it would be to spoil some key points, but he takes what could be an otherwise mediocre part with one or two significant moments and makes it notable. By comparison, Per Ragnar, who plays the equivalent part in Let The Right One In, is somewhat forgettable, and between the two, Jenkins is clearly the better actor. Elias Koteas also does a fine job as a policeman that is investigating the murders that began when Abby and her “father” arrive in town.
Keep an eye out for Reeves
Reeves comes from the school of J.J. Abrams. The majority of his work has come from working with Abrams, as the two co-created Felicity, then Reeves went on to direct Cloverfield, which Abrams produced. Just from that body of work, it is difficult to tell what kind of director Reeves’ would be. Judging from Let Me In, he has a long and bright future ahead of him. Not everyone will like Let Me In, and there will naturally be a contingent that thinks the original is so much better that by comparison the remake is awful, which is unfair, but maybe understandable. Despite how people come to see this film, it is hard to deny Reeves’ obvious talent and skill as a director.
Some of the choices he makes are subtle, and others are not, but they are handled so well that you might not even notice he did them. One decision Reeves makes that both departs from the Swedish version and helps the movie in question, is to never feature Owen’s parents. His mother is in several shots, but her face is never shown, while his father, a character present in the Swedish movie, is only heard over the phone and never seen. It is a small thing, but it helps the audience feel the isolation and detachment that Owen is experiencing.
There is also a scene involving a car accident that stands out as a remarkable piece of film making. Most people. He may not be the first ever to film such a scene, but it still stands out.
Because there are several instances where a scene is a shot for shot remake of Let The Right One In, it might still be too early to judge Reeves’ true level as a director, but there is no question that he is technically proficient, and you can expect bigger things from him in the future. He definitely has the potential to be great.
Let Me In vs. Let The Right One In
One of the biggest questions that many people will have is how does Let Me In compare to Let The Right One In. If you have not seen the original, this is obviously a moot point, but I would recommend seeing Let Me In first. Unfortunately for Let Me In, the original is so well regarded, and especially since it is just two years old, that many will simply overlook the remake and bemoan – not unfairly – that Let Me In is simply an Americanized version of movie that did not need to be remade. Whether or not that is true is entirely a personal decision (although the argument has merit), but at least the movie is a worthy attempt.
Let The Right One In is great movie that won several awards around the world, is arguably a masterpiece of genre film making. But more than that, as it was an obscure Swedish film that represented the antithesis of the current popular vampire trend in America – namely the Twilight-like “friendly vampire,” it has formed a personal attachment to many fans. Fans of the film tend to hold the movie up on a pedestal as an example of great genre filmmaking, and the news of a remake struck many as disrespectful and held it against Hollywood. There was even a fairly vocal contingent that claimed that it was a sign of American arrogance to remake a movie less than two years old, simply because it was subtitled.
There may be some justification to those criticisms, and to many Let Me In never stood a chance. When held head to head, you have to give the edge to Let The Right One In, if for no other reason than because it came first. There are some differences, but there are also enough similarities that Let Me In is unlikely to win over people who are already opposed to the movie. And that is a shame, because even if it is a legitimate criticism that there was never a need for a remake at all, Let Me In is still a solid movie, and a well-crafted film.
You will also hear criticisms that the film has been Americanized, which might be true, but I’m not convinced that is a bad thing. Americans have a certain set of likes and dislikes, and as long as the material is not dumbed down, making it more appealing to an American audience isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and definitely not in this case.
It might not be better than the original, but it is hard to say that it is worse. If you are a true fan of the horror, or horror-ish genre, then you should be somewhat excited that films of quality are still alive, and there are still filmmakers out there that know how to work the genre. Even if you hate that the remake was made, be glad that it was made well.
Let Me In is a worthy remake to a movie that was not screaming for a remake, but won’t be hurt by it either. It is an interesting and unique movie about friendship set against the backdrop of a horror and thriller setting. In so many ways this movie could have failed, but what could have been a huge failure – casting child actors for instance – turned out to be what makes this movie worth watching. Let Me In is not a perfect movie. It drags at parts, and the CGI will alienate some people, plus, while it shouldn’t upset fans of the original, it probably won’t win them over either. But for the few flaws it has, it is also one of the best horror movies in a long time, and it does so by not really being what you might expect a horror movie to be. It is more of a thriller that has horror aspects, but fans of the horror genre will likely claim this movie, and that is fair.
The film lives and dies on the performances of the two stars, Moretz and Smit-McPhee, both of whom do an outstanding job. The supporting cast is also top notch, and Matt Reeves shows that he has the potential to go on to great things. As there several shot-for-shot remakes of scenes from the original, it might be too early to declare him a “great” director, but he is definitely one to watch. If you are interested in a fresh take on vampires that is actually a classic one that has been buried under years of re-interpretations, Let Me In is a must see. It is a well-made movie that could help to breathe life back into the somewhat stagnant horror genre. It has a few moments of gore that might at first scare off non-horror fans, but beneath that, it also has a real story to tell, and it is one worth seeing.
Exceptional performances by young actors, especially Chloe Moretz. The direction and camerawork are both spot on, and several scenes will stick with you, including an amazingly filmed car accident. Not counting the original, there really isn’t anything else like it out there.
Fans of Let The Right One In probably won’t see the necessity for the remake. The movie is slow at times. It is more of a thriller than a horror movie, which might alienate some. The CGI will divide people