A disturbed boy, subject to frequent bullying, develops a friendship with the new girl—a vampire as unapologetically predatory as anything Van Helsing staked.
The novel, Låt den rätte komma in launched author John Ajvide Lindvist's career. It's a creepy little tale, structured like a Stephen King novel but better realized, and it birthed a film. Let the Right One In played to strong reviews and developed a following even in those countries uncomfortable with subtitles. For those who thought the vampire in its twilight due to over- and mis-use, little Eli, who has been "twelve for a very long time" came as a disturbing, blood-sucking relief.
In 2010, legendary Hammer Studios rose, nosferatu-like, from its grave, determined to once again spread horror through the world. Its first project? An Americanized, English-language version of Lindvist's story. Fans worried. Would this be another pointless remake, a defanging of all that gave the original its bite?
Whether any film is necessary remains an open question. Matt Reeves and company have crafted a good horrorshow. It's not the original movie and neither is the novel, but it stakes its own territory, and succeeds.
Reeves derives much from the Swedish film, but he also has his own vision, even in terms of what he keeps and cuts from the novel. Let Me In also transforms the story by setting it in Los Alamos in 1983. We have a film filled with American touches: the Old Testament moralizing of Ronald Reagan, the folk Christianity endemic to the U.S., and elements of popular Urban Legend-- from the 80s belief in widespread Satanic cults to the popular notion of the killer in the back seat. We even have that cliché of American movies, the cop who fails to contact any kind of back-up before charging into scary and potentially dangerous territory.
And of course, we have a car crash sequence. In its defense, its likely the most originally-shot car crash sequence in some time.
We have an adaptation, but we have a decidedly American adaptation, and this allows for a degree of originality missing in most films of this nature.
I wondered if the American actors would match the power of Kåre Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson. Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz (most recently seen as Hit Girl in Kick-Ass) come close. Would that Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart had a fraction of the chemistry of either underage couple. Moretz doesn't own the role as entirely as Leandersson1, but she transforms from cryptic child to bloodlusting monster with a conviction many adult actors couldn't muster. And her dark nature remains a key strength of this story. The vampire hasn't been softened or dusted with glitter. She's a dangerous creature of the night who kills indiscriminately. Yet despite the fact that she, by any sane definition, is a monster, we start to understand her.
The film, in fact, features excellent performances throughout. However, only Owen and Abby receive any real development, and their relationship gets fast-tracked. The writer and director have chosen to minimize the secondary characters. Owen's parents have been reduced to barely-visible presences on the periphery of his life. This approach accomplishes some positive ends. The peripheral parents have been effectively scripted and played, and their absence really emphasizes Owen's isolation. However, the approach bleeds the film of much of its potential power. We have little connection to the people who die. Their passing can be dramatic and visceral but not moving. The film only hints darkly at the nature of Abby’s relationship with her guardian, though Richard Jenkins does turn in a memorably creepy performance.
Some people will be upset that a certain aspect of this vampire's origins and nature has been removed from this version, but I think the filmmakers made the right choice. This element works in the novel because it can be developed. In Let the Right One In, it clutters the film and confuses the audience, because no time exists to address it adequately.
I also give Reeves and crew credit for capturing the same kind of cold visual poetry present in the original. We have a bloody disturbing story, beautifully framed.
The visuals look fine, as do the physical effects—gorier than in the Swedish film, but entirely in keeping with the source material. The CGI, alas, could have looked a little less like CGI. In a film that strives to be as realistic as possible (given the genre), I found those effects distracting.
The first film toned down the disturbing aspects of the novel somewhat; I thought the American film would go even further. Overall, however, Hammer has kept it at about the same level as the Swedish film. If anything, Let Me's Owen seems less sympathetic in his early scenes than Right One's Oskar-- though neither proves quite so twisted as Lindvist's printed-word antihero. And it was a given that no American film would contain the hint of a crotch-flash from an underage performer.
It's not Let The Right One In, and neither film is the book, but Let Me In ranks among the best American horror movies of recent vintage. I cannot recall when we last had an English-language vampire flick that approaches this one in quality.
Directed by Matt Reeves
Written by Matt Reeves from the novel and screenplay by John Ajvide Lindvist
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen
Chloe Moretz as Abby
Richard Jenkins as Abby's Guardian
Cara Buonoas Owen's Mother
Elias Koteas as Police Officer
Sasha Barresse as Virginia
Dylan Kenin as Larry
Dylan Minnette as Kenny
Pale Olofsson as Larry
Jimmy "Jax" Pinchak as Mark
Nicolai Dorian as Donald
Ritchie Coster as Zoric
1. Technically, neither does Lina Leandersson. Her ancient-seeming eyes and perfect movement embody vampiric Eli, but another actor, Elif Ceylan, gave her voice in the Swedish original.