Remake... or Redundant?

by Bill Gibron

22 September 2010

Call it generational or junk culture, but "why?" will never fully address the thought process behind Hollywood's often craven need for movie makeovers. In the case of this latest revamp, the results speak for themselves.
cover art

Let Me In

Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Cara Buono

(Overture Films)
US theatrical: 1 Oct 2010 (General release)

The key question with any remake is “why?” Why take something already established, something already owned by its supporters and its detractors and give it a second life within said criticisms? More importantly, why work with something that is already considered genius, or at the very least masterful enough to warrant a classification as classic? That’s the problem facing Matt Reeves right now, with one week plus before his take on the resplendent foreign horror film Let the Right One In (now named Let Me In), hits theaters. Ever since it was announced, there was an aura of “why bother” associated with this production. Now, post-TIFF, the sense of purpose/pointlessness seems even stronger.

Early buzz suggests a masterpiece or a mess, a work of acute awareness toward what came before vs. a shot-for-shot waste of time ala Gus Van Sant’s Psycho. Sadly, those arguing the latter are more than a little confused. Reeves, who crafted the script from the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, definitely draws inspiration from Tomas Alfredson’s brilliant adaptation, but also rejects elements invented for said version. In essence, this is yet another take on the same material, like different versions of brownies or some specialized recipe for a suppertime standard. But Reeves isn’t just reverent. Instead, he takes his time, slowly building a sad little love story about alienated preteens and the “demons” that haunt them. In between, the horrors or growing up and the terrors of being forever young are painted in broad, bloody strokes.
Like Spielberg before him, Reeves is more invested in these kids than the addled adults around them. Our frail lead, a bullied young boy named Owen, has a mother whose so out of focus that the direction never shows her full on. Instead, she’s blurred on the edges of the frame, half-filled glass of white wine swirling in her hand. The policeman investigating the sudden string of crimes in his area is given no name. The various members of the school administration are vague and abstract, one speaking in an Eastern Bloc accent so thick that the lack of a full explanation is unnerving. Similarly, our halting heroine is cared for by a man whose meaning and purpose is obvious, but whose connection otherwise is locked in a limbo of secrets.

Within this confusing world of evil, absentee parenting, and latchkey responsibility sits our duo - one desperate to break out of his life of torment, the other tormented by the life she must lead. Owen is fascinated by the concept of drawing blood (it’s a reaction to the horrible torment he goes through at the hands of others in his class). Abby is animalistic in her uncontrollable thirst for same. Together, they learn the lessons of coping, the benefits of mutual need and the dread that comes from such discoveries. Vampirism is almost secondary here. Abby’s need for blood is more primal than paranormal. And before you really get the wrong idea, this is not some preteen Twilight twaddle. Stephanie Meyer and her stilted wish fulfillment could only dream of being as deep and insightful as Lindqvist et al.

Of course, all of this begs the question of “Why?” After all, Alfredson’s film offers all of this and much, much more (including the Western brain-bender of subtitles) and since we already have a version viable in the things that the remake handles masterfully, the redux rationale seems weak at best…that is, until you realize a couple of things. First of all, not everyone has the open perspective of a critic or a journalistic society. For many, Let the Right One In was not a local Cineplex event, but a DV-R dive into awards season acknowledgement. It’s a safe bet that almost all of the concerned cinematic citizens crowing over the remake are arguing for their experience from the safety of their living room, Alfredson’s take delivered right to their door with Year End Best efficiency.

So first off, the remake is for everyone else. Indeed, it’s for Joe and Jane Six-pack (or more accurately, Johnny and Janey Red Bull), the mainstream viewer who wouldn’t know a Godard from a Godfather. No matter how loudly a knowledgeable voice yells, getting the attention of the everyday film fan is a job best left to Tinseltown. Sure, they can screw it up - and usually do. But in the rare cases where the remake is a raging success - and that is definitely the situation with Let Me In - they are the surest shot for getting otherwise reluctant butts in seats. Put another way: the simplest solution to getting the uninformed to embrace your preference is to give them a taste of what they are supposedly missing.

Besides, when the results work, when the remake matches (and in some cases, excels beyond) the source, it’s a weird win/win. The biggest problem with Van Sant’s manic mimic dissection of Hitchcock was that it wasn’t very good. From the casting to the mood altering decision to go bright, brash, and colorful, the cross-dressing deadliness of Norman Bates and his mother fixation was literally destroyed by the approach. In the case of Let Me In - and it’s not shot-for-shot, not by a long…whatever - we have a very viable, very effective film. It succeeds in its own way, able to match what the first film did in both atmosphere and subtext. Is it perfect? No? Does it borrow liberally from Alfredson’s vision? Absolutely. However, there’s a big difference between renting a concept and ripping it off.

Let Me In is simply leasing the social/supernatural elements provided by Lindqvist and his Swedish interpreters to argue for the non-exclusivity of the material. Handled properly, with respect for the feelings of those already invested, something magical can be made - and that is truly the case here. By their very definition, a remake is redundant. Why tackle another take on Freddy Krueger or recently revived superheroes when the original exists. Such thinking, however, would have revoked both Tim Burton’s Goth goof and Christopher Nolan’s epic operatic take on Batman. Call it generational or junk culture, but “why?” will never fully address the thought process behind Hollywood’s often craven need for movie makeovers. In the case of this latest revamp, the results speak for themselves. 

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