Review “Let Me In” (2010)

letmeinposter

Like many horror fans, the announcement of a remake of any kind generally makes my teeth hurt. All the more so when it was announced that an American redo was slated for the intense and gorgeous Swedish vampire coming-of-age story Let the Right One In. Not only was the film startlingly original and well-executed, but its singular mood was rooted very deeply in its lonely, snowswept setting.

So I’m as surprised as anyone that with Let Me In, the Guy Who Made Cloverfield (Matt Reeves) and the Studio Who Made Dracula a Technicolor Mod (Hammer) have delivered a film that is both reverent to the original film and entirely successful as a work of captivating American horror.

let-me-in-knife-mirrorOwen reflects

Set squarely (and deliberately) in the peak of the Reagan era in small-town New Mexico, Let Me In starts off with a breathless ambulance chase. A man covered in acid burns is whisked through the snowy plain (snow in New Mexico? Who knew?) to a hospital, where he is visited by a weary policeman (played by Elias Koteas). Moments later, the nameless (and faceless) man tumbles to his death from the window, and as The Gipper addresses the nation from the television at the nurses’ station, a terrible tale begins to unfold.

Jumping back two weeks, we meet young Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a lonely boy living with his mother (who is going through a messy divorce) in a middle-class apartment complex. Owen loves candy, spying on his neighbors with his telescope, and knives – in a moment of rage that is absolutely horrifying out-of-context, he dons a creepy plastic mask and sticks a knife at his mirror, asking, “Are you scared, little girl?” Guess there’s not much to do in those New Mexico winters!

We soon learn that Owen is the punching bag of a trio of bullies at his school who beat him up and refer to him only as a “she”; Owen’s threatening play-acting at his mirror now makes sense, though it is no less disturbing.

Let Me In FilmChloe Moretz and Kodi Smitt-McPhee

One snowy night Owen looks out of his window to see the arrival of a young girl and an older man, who turn out to be the new tenants next door. The girl is blank-faced but beautiful, and the fact that she wears no shoes in the snow only serves to increase her mystique. The girl approaches Owen the next night on the jungle gym of the building’s courtyard (Owen is stabbing at a tree with his newly-purchased pocket knife), cautioning him that they can’t be friends. And one of the most beautiful and devastating friendships in modern horror is born.

If you don’t know already, Abby (played beautifully by Chloe Moretz) is a vampire, trapped forever as a 12-year-old, who needs a “keeper” of sorts to help her find food. Richard Jenkins (from Six Feet Under and The Visitor) plays the nearly silent role with a hangdog determination that, is heartbreaking. I don’t know that we even learn the man’s name, but it’s impossible to miss the clear affection that he feels for Abby, even as he is compelled to carry out horrific acts on her behalf.

These acts are the first point where the film makes serious departures from the original film. In fact, aside from the slightly tweaked timeline, Let Me In is remarkably similar to the original Swedish film – locations, characters, dialogue, and at time entire scenes feel almost identical to the first film. This isn’t to say that they feel like imitations, by any means – Reeves seems to be paying respect to the first film’s look and mood, and choosing carefully when and where to add his own spin on the tale.

Let-Me-In-0904cRichard Jenkins just scared the shit out of me.

The most notable changes are in the murders (and attempted murders) of the townspeople tangential to the central story. While in the original film the first attack takes place in a snowy forest, in Let Me In the murder happens in a place that feels absolutely and authentically American: a teenager’s car. Jenkins dons a cheap mask (a black garbage bag with two rough eyeholes) and hides out in the back of a station wagon, leading to an incredibly tense and frightening scene that makes a nod to one of our classic urban legends.

A later botched attempt at procuring food for Abby also centers around a car – and this time it leads to a shocking, wonderfully-executed crash that seems to be a deliberate attempt to differentiate this movie from its cooler, quieter predecessor. It’s a great scene, so no complaints here – and it wonderfully evokes the experience of being a teen in the ’80s.

LET ME INAbby drops in

Reeves’ nostalgic touch carries throughout the film, with clever nods to everything to old arcade games to pop music (David Bowie‘s “Let’s Dance” is used several times, to amusing effect) to candy (Now and Laters play an unexpected central role). The juxtaposition of the optimism of youth and of the Reagan ’80s with Owen’s tale of loneliness and desperation is a powerful one … and aside from that, who doesn’t love hearing Blue Oyster Cult used non-ironically?

Between the bursts of violence (both vampire and human), Owen’s relationship with Abby deepens. He comes to realize that she is not human … but will it cause him to turn away from her? I’ll let that question hang for those for whom this is a new story – but I’ll assure those who love the original that while other subplots are condensed or excised, when it comes to the central relationship Reeves has kept every beat of this twisted fairy tale intact.

Well, almost every beat. There’s the question of Abby’s … other problem. You know, the reason that she keeps cryptically telling Owen that she’s “not a girl”. While Let Me In stops one memorable shot short of the original in hinting to this major element of the book, in other respects it actually makes gender more of a prominent theme by amping the feminization of Owen by the school bullies. It’s clear that these two young people are drawn to each other in a pre-sexual, androgynous way, and while the particulars of Abby’s backstory are not directly addressed (as they are not in the Swedish film), it in no way negates them.

let-93-2Owen finds himself in the deep end

In the end, Let Me In is many things. It’s a successful remake, a haunting coming-of-age tale, a bloody and frightening vampire flick, a heartbreaking indictment of adolescent bullying, and an unexpectedly queer love story. And thanks to a carefully considered script, even-handed direction, fantastic performances, and top-notch production design, music and effects, it’s also one of the best horror movies and most pleasant surprises of the year.

RATING (OUT OF 5):

ReviewFourSkully

Let Me In is rated R for graphic violence, disturbing ’80s fashion, and gratuitous David Bowie (all of which are totally awesome)


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