Let’s get one thing straight: the term “remake” irks me to no end, especially if the film being remade originally originated from a published work. Yes, the phrase is included in the byline for this review you’re about to devour with your eyes. While the basis for Let Me In is the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In, the source material is derived from a novel written by John Ajvide Lindqvist. At the very least, Let Me In is an American adaptation of the Swedish novel. Considering that a majority of moviewatchers has little time to devote to reading, let alone watching movies with subtitles, I’ll just call a spade a spade and say Let Me In is a remake. Agreed?
For hundreds of years vampires have existed in stories and fables. Such a legacy allows for them to be constantly reinvented. In 2005, the stakes were raised (I write as my tongue glides across my teeth that aren’t fangs before planting itself in my cheek) with the publication of Twilight. Now vampires are hip again. As the Twilight phenomenon grew, more vampire novels were published as a way to cash in on the hysteria. Movie studios went as far to re-release DVD titles with artwork that made it look like a Twilight knock-off.
With popularity comes overexposure. We’ve seen the fangs, the wooden stakes and the blood sucking. Just when we thought the genre had nothing new to offer, here comes Let Me In, which is distinctly different from what we’ve come to expect from vampires. Well, different to those who never saw Let the Right One In.
Matt Reeves, who made his big-screen debut with the mysterious creature feature Cloverfield, doesn’t dumb down the original product to make it more suitable for American audiences. He does change a few details, like the location (Los Alamos in place of Stockholm) as well as the removal of a split-second revelation that left viewers in a state of eyebrow-raised confusion (those who have seen the original know what I’m talking about), but the film’s overall tone and relationship between the two main characters remain. In some ways both the Swedish film and the Americanized version are similar but satisfyingly different in their own ways. In music terms, it would be like comparing Wings’ “Live and Let Die” to the cover version by Guns N’ Roses.
Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is an undersized 12-year-old who is frequently bullied at school by a group of classmates that question his sexuality. Picked on at school and ignored at home, Owen remains introverted, keeping to himself. When Abby (Chloe Moretz) moves in to the neighborhood, taking residence in the apartment next to his with her “father” (Richard Jenkins), Owen finds her oddly appealing. From her unkempt appearance and decision to not wear shoes when it is freezing cold outside, Abby is as much of a curiosity as Owen.
During their initial meeting, outside in the courtyard on a jungle gym apparatus, Abby tells Owen that they can never be friends. But friends they do become. They communicate with each other through a shared wall between their apartments using Morse code. She gives him advice on how to take care of bullies. He gives her a Now and Later candy which she can’t digest. We know the reason why long before Owen does. Abby is a vampire who has her meals prepared for her by the man who shares her apartment, who we assume is her father. When he fails to bring home the bacon, or in this case blood, she acts recklessly in trying to get her fix. Picking victims too close to the apartment complex, she draws a police detective (Elias Koteas) ever so close.
The police detective is a change to the story’s narrative, but makes sense in a real world scenario. When bodies go missing or are discovered in woods drained of blood, of course it’s going to get the attention of the authorities and lead to an investigation. His purpose also frames the story differently, as he makes his presence known in the opening sequence before the story flashes back to weeks earlier.
Let Me In like its predecessor is more a coming-of-age story than a horror film. The horror elements are there, but the tone is directly affected on how Owen and Abby relate with each other. It’s a beautiful relationship, because once Abby’s secret is revealed, Owen doesn’t run away scared. He’s already committed himself to her, because she showed an interest in him when no one else would.
The relationship they have together also impacts the relationship she has with her own “father.” The older man was probably once like Owen, introverted and shy. And when Abby came into his life he developed similar feelings like Owen is now. But now he’s old and sees Abby growing closer to Owen. He may not want to admit it but he knows that he is about to be replaced.
The two lead performances are the film’s biggest strengths. Kodi Smit-McPhee, who played the son in The Road, is believable in a role of a kid that is frightened by certain classmates but yet is friends with a vampire. Nearing puberty his body is changing and the emotions he feels for Abby has him conflicted. The romance they share allows him to tone down his shyness and be bold. And it has a direct effect on how he handles the biggest bully in school. Chloe Moretz, who is quickly becoming the best young actress in the wake of Dakota Fanning’s ascent from child star to child star with a driver’s license, may be too beautiful for the role of Abby, but considering Matt Reeves’ decision to lose that split-second shot the ambiguity that existed in Let the Right One In is gone. Her struggle to survive is not lost on the audience. In fact, her desire for blood allows for some egregious uses of CGI and fast-motion shots that aren’t really effective.
Let the Right One In and Let Me In may be different covers of the same song, but informed audiences thinking this is just a cheap Hollywood knock-off should look again. Matt Reeves, who was hesitant to even do the remake, has made a film that honors the traditions of the original by examining the connections made by two introverts. Only one just happened to be a vampire.
Director: Matt Reeves
Notable Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Cara Buono
Writer(s): Matt Reeves, based on “Let the Right One In” by John Ajvide Lindqvist