The kids are not all right – Let Me In review

Let Me In – Starring Chloe Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Richard Jenkins. Directed by Matt Reeves. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

Ask anyone their thoughts on a particular movie remake, and they’ll likely describe it as either ‘traitorously divergent’ or ‘faithful to a fault’. I can’t say I blame these random, unidentified people for their bluntness. Such is our passionate devotion to films that we immediately reject and fear the concept of the dreaded Hollywood remake (and should the phrase “reimagining” be thrown around, consider our terror increased tenfold). Matt ReevesLet Me In – a remake of Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish vampire picture Let The Right One In – doesn’t deserve either of those labels, but is a prime example of a third categorisation: ‘totally unnecessary’. That’s not to say that a remake cannot be as valid a contribution to cinema as its predecessor, or perhaps even better than its source of inspiration. Consider A Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo. The Departed and Infernal Affairs. The Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai. Dawn of the Dead and well, Dawn of the Dead. Let Me In does not offer anything truly special to be considered one of The Great Remakes, and it arrives too soon after the original to be thought of as anything more than a cash grab.

Maybe ‘cash grab’ is an unfair designation. Reeves’ is clearly enamoured with Alfredson’s atmospheric Let The Right One In (both are based upon John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel of the same name). Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to Reeves’ adaptation is that it is faithful to its predecessor’s slow-burn intensity, and adequately conveys the tale’s unsettling melange of melancholic sweetness and gut-wrenching horror. The cast – including the incredibly talented youngsters Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee, as well as the wonderful character actors Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas – are also totally affecting. I guess my apprehension in praising the film lies in the fact that I just don’t see the point of this English-language remake (released a mere two years after LTROI). This American take on Lindqvist’s tale offers a few new interesting shades, and although they’re not unwelcome, they’re never preferable to Alfredson’s directorial decisions.

For those unfamiliar with Let The Right One In (and allow me to interrupt mid-review to implore you to seek out and watch that fantastic film), allow me to recap the plot. The year is 1983, and 12-year-old Owen (McPhee) is enduring a miserable existence. He lives alone with his mother in a dreary apartment complex, is completely friendless, and is preyed upon by three relentlessly awful bullies at school. He purchases a pocket knife, not to threaten his oppressors, but to simulate revenge by intimidating his mirror in the privacy of his bedroom. One night, he witnesses a young girl (Moretz) move in with her father (Jenkins). Only later will he discover that she is not a young girl, and he is not her father. Her name is Abby; she walks barefoot in the snow, has a peculiar scent and a complexion that can be described as being somewhere in-between ‘deathly’ and ‘dead’. She approaches Owen in the apartment complex’s playground to inform him that they cannot be friends, but still hangs around with him regardless. Owen is suspicious of her, but is thankful to have the companionship. Eventually his feelings of thanks turn into genuine affection, and a crush is born. Even when he discovers Abby’s horrible truth – that she is a vampire who lives on the blood of the local townsfolk as procured by her father/keeper – Owen still remains infatuated. Apparently Owen has not heard of the phrase ‘dealbreaker’.

When I reviewed Let The Right One In back in 2009, I said the following (before awarding it five stars out of five): “it is such a unique and special movie, it can barely be captured in praise of the greatest exaggeration. Synopsis proves inadequate in describing the intangibly beautiful moments and continually surprising turn of events.” Sadly, words such as ‘unique’ and ‘surprising’ can’t be offered to a film like Let Me In. I thought (or at least, hoped) that an Americanised adaptation of this tale would focus on America’s fascination with violence, thus making a remake totally relevant and welcome. Such a commentary is hinted at early on, what with scenes of President Ronald Reagan discussing evil on the television, and Owen donning a Michael Myers mask while brandishing a pocket knife in his bedroom. But that’s about as far as Reeves (who also penned the film) is willing to situate the film in such a context.

I said this of the original film’s screenplay, particularly in the way it conveyed the relationship between the kids: “[it’s] a masterwork of subtlety and silence. So much is said between the two in the quietest of moments; playing with a Rubik’s cube; tapping Morse code between dividing walls. A love story between two children should not be this convincing.” Again, Let Me In features these very sequences, but gone is the subtlety and silence. Instead, we have plinky-piano music and swelling strings amplifying every scene. As for the subtlety, Let Me In attempts to clarify each character’s motives, not realising that our uneasy misunderstanding of Owen and Abby’s relationship is what made the first film so powerful. Reeves’ screenplay really reduces Lindqvist’s tale to its bare bones; it gives us too much information, hammers home the symbolism and leaves us with no questions.

Perhaps the film’s fatal flaw lay in its depiction of Abby. Although Moretz is great, we never actually get to see her take a life or feed on blood. When Abby transforms into her true bloodsucking self, the actress is replaced by a horribly misguided, Grudge-esque CGI creation that is embarrassing to behold. Although the original film was guilty of some bad CG (in the form of some silly jumping cats), here it completely diminishes the power of the film’s moral ambiguity. We’re meant to question Abby motives. She’s meant to be a creature living solely for necessity; she has no need for love, but she recognises that she must ensnare a young boy to be her slave and help her to stay alive for the duration of his life, before eventually trading him for another. Or does she? Does she truly love Owen? These questions do not exist in Let Me In, perhaps because of the poorly judged CGI; perhaps because of Reeves’ barebones screenplay. Abby is no Edward Cullen. She should truly exist in the grey area between evil and just-kinda-evil. It’s hard to think of her as such when we stifle laughter while she attacks her prey.

With all that being said, everyone involved should be commended for their effort. I’ve seen far worse remakes, and this one hardly insults the legacy of the original. However, while I’d personally have trouble deciding which Dawn of the Dead I was going to rewatch, or will occasionally consider a Yojimbo/A Fistful of Dollars double feature, I can’t imagine undergoing a torturous decision-making process when deciding between Let Me In or Let The Right One In. Let Me In is a fine film; well performed and (mostly) well made. But the only reason to see this instead of Let The Right One In is to avoid some subtitles. That is to say, there is no reason to see this instead of Let The Right One In.

3/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Let Me In opens in Australian cinemas October 14, 2010.

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