With vampire mania running at an all time high in the United States, a remake of the 2008 Swedish sleeper hit Let the Right One In was certainly inevitable and understandable, at least from a purely economic point of view. Aesthetically, though, the idea that a pretty damn near perfect film needed a do-over rankled. So being a big fan of the original, I met this news with the appropriate level of cynicism and apprehension, though not with as much rancor and outrage as certain segments of the online fan boy audience. But my skepticism was mingled with a dash of hope, because sometimes these things actually do go well, either equaling or even exceeding the original. I was rooting for the remake to succeed in finding a foothold, if only as an antidote to the ascendant Twilight-ification of the vampire genre.
The fears I had going into Let Me In were quickly allayed, pretty much right out of the gate. Director Matt Reeves’ film is about as faithful facsimile as you could make of the original without it being an actual shot for shot retread (though Reeves claims up and down, in the interviews included on the DVD, that he only worked directly from original Swedish novel, to the point of not even mentioning the Swedish film. Methinks he protests too much). If it differs a bit in the details – reordering certain events, omitting an unnecessary subplot, adding a few new scenes – it nails both the pitch perfect tone of loneliness, tenderness and dread of the Swedish original, and that film’s drained, anemic palette.
Watching Let Me In is like seeing the original reflected and refracted in a cracked mirror – things are recognizable in the main, but just slightly askew enough in the particulars that it holds your interest and keeps you in suspense (of course, assuming that it would actually cast a reflection, which, you know, since they stick to the actual rules for vampires here, it wouldn’t). And after about 15-minutes or so, I stopped the running comparison in my head and was completely immersed in the world of this film. Nagging questions of redundancy and lack of necessity suddenly became moot as my appreciation for this version grew.
Credit Reeves for his restraint and his (oftentimes slavish) faithfulness to the strengths of the source material. American remakes of successful foreign films (especially horror films) seem to trip up when they go for a “more is more” approach (more gore, more violence), as well as a need to either over-explain and/or clarify every narrative or thematic ambiguity. Though Reeves overplays his hand at a few points in graphically portraying the truly monstrous nature of what Abby (Chloe Moretz) is, it’s a minor hiccup. Most of the time, the film maintains the same languid build up of mounting dread coupled with adolescent yearning, innocence shot through with blood. As our young, eternally bullied hero Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) discovers more about Abby, and as he falls under her protection and thrall, so we are lulled and seduced by the hypnotic undertow of the film itself.
In other ways Reeves muddies the water, adding extra layers of unwholesome creepiness to Abby’s relationship with her “father” (Richard Jenkins) that weren’t there before, or amplifying Owen’s alienation by turning him into a Rear Window-type voyeur. The bullying is also ratcheted up in intensity, brutal and visceral, Owen’s ordeals turning into the true horror of the film.
But ultimately, Let Me In makes its best case for itself with the performances of its two leads. The young boy in the original, though wispy and wimpy, seemed… I don’t know, too angelic almost? Kodi Smit-McPhee, with his oddly cut hair, huge wide set eyes, sunken chest and translucent pallor, looks like the Platonic Idea of a bullying victim (as well as a bit vampiric himself), a child alienated not only from his peers, but from the living. There’s a hint of creeping perversion already working its way through Owen before Abby shows up that makes him all the more susceptible to her allures.
Chloe Moretz, with her curled, sneering lips and husky voice, seems from the outset a much more primal and earthy vampire than the ethereal, profoundly melancholy girl from the original. As portrayed by Moretz, Abby is much more animalistic, a ravening demon, all herky-jerky, unsettling quick movement, viciously and rabidly biting and mauling her victims. And yet there’s a soulfulness there that tricks you into ignoring the evil lurking beneath her innocent visage, where she seems almost a victim herself, rather than a monster.
In the same way as the original, Owen and Abby forge a tenuous bond with their shared loneliness, of their lives of skirting about the edges, a desolation that pervades and saturates every frame of the film. If Let Me In has an ultimate meaning beyond its undead love story/revenge fantasy, it’s this – that life, be it mortal or eternal, is terribly cold, friendless and unforgiving, and perhaps the only way to survive is to give up being human. The end of the film (which I won’t give away, but is disturbingly satisfying) posits that Owen’s ultimate salvation by Abby is also his eternal curse.
Let Me In’s DVD release has a few decent extras that warrant viewing. A twenty minute behind the scenes – with the typical collection of cast interviews and on-set footage – is remarkable for what everyone doesn’t say, especially Reeves: namely, any mention at all of the original Swedish film. To hear Reeves tell it in these interviews, he was the first to the source novel, and had been itching to get a filmed version done from the moment it hit shelves.
While I was initially tempted to drag him over the coals for this blatant lack of acknowledgment of the severe debt he owes, I then started to realize that this obvious omission was actually a fairly measured and reasonable ploy to get viewers to consider the film on its own merits, which, in the end, is only fair. Let Me In should (and, in fact, does) stand on its own aesthetic merit, despite the obvious points of superficial comparison with its Swedish cousin, and, given the end result, is more than deserving of this consideration.
Plus, if you then follow it up with a second viewing of the film with Reeves director’s commentary, you will hear him positively tripping over himself in effusion for the original, praising it up and down and basically saying that he just hopes to somehow do half as great a job as the original director and cast did. So, having your cake and eating it too, I guess. The track is very good though, much better than is usual for these things. Reeves youthful verve and deep personal connection to the novel inform his carefully chosen words, and reflect and reinforce all the more the directing decisions which we see before us.
A couple of deleted scenes – one fairly major (a dreamlike account of Abby’s traumatic ordeal when she was made a vampire) – are worth a look too. Two short (approximately ten-minutes each) effects related features round out the platter. All in all, a solid DVD release, better than you are likely to get these days in the wake of all the truly good extras being held back in favor of the Blu-ray release.