[4 October 2010]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
It’s happened again. Another good film, a film unfairly maligned for no good aesthetic reason, has failed at the box office. It’s becoming such a regular trend in fact that one must come up with a benchmark for determining the rationale behind such a lack of success. The victim this time is Matt Reeves’ near brilliant Let Me In, the Americanized (but definitely not bastardized) remake of the masterful Swedish horror film Let the Right One In. With a pitiful $5.3 million performance at the box office, barely beating out the truly terrible Renee Zellweger thriller Case 39, a film that sat on studio shelves for three years, it joins 2010 underperformers Kick-Ass and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as high profile releases that ended up more or less tanking with traditional audiences.
Now, it’s not unusual for bad films to fail. No one was expecting huge returns from such limited/lame offerings as Jonah Hex or You Again. But at least the niche these movies were marketed to seemed solid enough to provide some impetus for the wretched reception. In the case of Kick-Ass (75% at Rotten Tomatoes), Scott Pilgrim (80%) and now Let Me In (86%), critical mass has not equaled mainstream appeal. As a matter of fact, when we dig deeper into the theories about the adolescent coming-of-age vampire flick and its present flop sweat, it’s another group that scuttled its potential performance. While many in the biz have discounted the web as a means of word of mouth support, geek ire is clearly one of the reasons why, at least for now, Messageboard Nation is steering clear of Reeves’ revelatory work.
When they get into a froth, nothing can stop the rabid fanboy (just ask George Lucas…). Mess with their entitled entertainment and there will be bulletin board, film forum, and review comment Hell to pay (just ask Armond White). It’s consensus by cacophony, he who makes the biggest noise—and the most outrageous irresponsible accusations—more or less guiding the rest of the discourse. Even though few in the anonymous soapbox derby saw the original Let the Right One In when it was initially released, many have now embraced it as foreign Goth gospel. Those hack work heathens in Hollywood were already walking on the thinnest of angry ice flows when they determined to give it the red, white, and blue stamp. Even without seeing the final result, Let Me In was already labeled the Antichrist.
Now, this fear/frenzy is not without evidentiary support. It’s near impossible to name the last time Tinseltown took a beloved title from somewhere other than the US and turned it into a worthy English language adaptation. Their terrible track record speaks for itself. So those who worried, prior to release, that Let Me In would somehow shame Let the Right One In had a wealth of “I told you so” titles to pick from. In the end, however, not even an avalanche of positive reviews—many coming out of the nerdgasm realm of genre friendly film festivals—could keep the accord of anger from taking root. While everything indicated that Reeves had done the material proud, the passive punditry of the ‘Net insisted something quite different.
The two basic beliefs about Let Me In—both wildly misguided and completely wrong, by the way—are that (a) the remake is a shot for shot reimagining of the Tomas Alfredson original, with Reeves stealing scenes and sentiments outright, and/or (b) that if you’ve seen the original, you’ve already seen this film -an argument that sounds similar but that actually has a differing purpose. In both cases, the message is loud and clear; if you are part of the talkback trendsetters that supposedly give the information superhighway its purpose, do not go and see this film. For one, you’ve already experienced everything the material has to offer (specious at best, considering how amazing the novel is) and besides, the redux is merely the same cinematic thing—in tone, in structure, in form—shuttled over to early ‘80s New Mexico.
Both views are so illogical as to be pitied. Had Reeves pulled a Gus Van Sant and turned Let Me In into his own reckless homage to Alfredson’s mise-en-scene, someone would have pointed this out, and no, the pissed off voices of the purveyors of such a claim do not count. Many in the old school media loved/loathed the film, and last time anyone checked, they weren’t pointing to the exactness of the recreation as a reason. Similarly, the notion that “you’ve already seen it” suggests that nothing new could come from the initial tale. It doesn’t matter that the Swedish version barely touched on the pedophilic subtext of the story (you thought old men cared/killed for Eli/Abby out of the kindness of their heart???), or that Alfredson changed narrative elements to fit his own designs. Apparently, once told, Let the Right One In is complete. Nothing can add or amplify its initial adaptation.
But something else, let’s call it The Splice Effect for now, seems to be driving these determinations. A few months back, ‘Net nation was giddy over the Adrian Brody/Sarah Poley sci-fi film, falling over themselves to praise its uniqueness and audacity. Even as the ethical issues inherent in the piece were reduced to sex with a mutant, many hailed it as a mini-masterwork. So when the movie opened and then proceeded to tank, the rebuff was resounding. Many got on their blogs and belittled an audience unwilling to “open their minds” to more intelligent, meaningful fare. A few even accused the studio of underselling the film (though the near nonstop running of TV ads weeks prior to opening seemed to skip this flawed frame of reference). No matter how many ways they reconfigured the truth, the fact remains that mainstream viewers didn’t like what director Vincenzo Natali was selling.
Such stubborn certainty will be the death of the nu media, a headstrong immovability that will bite off and Cheese Puff belch on the hand that barely feeds it. Believing in something so strongly that it becomes a motivational mantra is dangerous. While no one is suggesting we go back in time to an era when a few voices made most of our aesthetic determination, has the watering down of said strategy via populism really worked? Kick-Ass was supposed to change the comic book adaptation game. It didn’t. Scott Pilgrim was intended as the apex of graphic novel/gamer immersion. It wasn’t. Just as Splice was a proposed classic that couldn’t get beyond crap, Let Me In was a considered waste of time unfairly labeled as such (especially by many who couldn’t be bothered to actually see it and THEN make up their mind).
Thus we find ourselves back in that familiar position, shoulders shrugged, hands in the air over how something clearly commercial could come up so short. The best suggestion regarding Let Me In is also the most meaningless; had the first film never existed, this would be the heralded horror masterwork worth defending. Of course, we can’t change chronology. What we can do, however, is ignore the often collective hysteria of a networking demographic scorned. True, the movie was marketed in perhaps the worst way possible, but still… barely beating Case 39?
If regular moviegoers didn’t like Let Me In, that’s fine. Perhaps they’ve been perverted by the pile of entertainment excrement known as The Twilight Saga. Honest reaction and opinions are almost always the answer to a lack of ticket sales. The sooner the aggregate gets that in its communal noggin and stops trying to dictate universal appeal (or abhorrence), the better. Of course, they will have to stop listening to each other as well and, when it comes to such geek grandstanding, that may be next to impossible.