Since most people who go to see Let Me In will not have seen Let the Right One In, the 2008 Swedish movie that inspired the remake, let’s get the comparisons out of the way quickly. The original is drastically superior in two critical, signature scenes: The swimming-pool sequence and the depiction of what happens to a vampire when he or she enters your house uninvited. The first movie also included a brief but crucial bit of nudity that the Hollywood remake opts to ignore, for understandable reasons (they’re much more progressive than us, those wacky Europeans).
In every other respect, though, Let Me In is the equal to director Tomas Alfredson’s original and even surpasses it in some ways. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) obviously loves and respects the first movie – he replicates its tone, atmosphere and cinematography and sometimes reprises scenes shot-for-shot – but he also has his take on John Alvide Lindqvist’s highly cinematic novel, and transplating the story from a Stockholm suburb to 1983 Los Alamos, N.M., does more than simply make it relatable to U.S. audiences.
The change introduces a subtle subtext about the growing dissatisfaction of Reagan-era America and the dissolution of the large number of nuclear families the Baby Boomers tried and failed to keep together. The resulting dislocation felt by the children of those families turns out to be of huge importance to the plot – the engine that ultimately drives the characters to do rather extreme things.
Owen (The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee) lives in a drab apartment complex with his mother, who is overcome by her impending divorce and is barely a presence in her son’s life. (Although she appears in several scenes, the camera never shows us her face, underscoring her perpetual emotional absence. She’s there, but she’s not there.)
Lonely, small for his age and bullied at school, Owen spies on his neighbors with a telescope (shades of Rear Window that pay off beautifully later) and notices the arrival of new tenants: A little girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) who walks barefoot in the snow, her feet purple and bruised, and a man (Richard Jenkins), presumably her father. Soon, we discover the man is most certainly not her dad and that the girl, Abby, is not like most 12-year-olds.
“Just so you know, I can’t be your friend,” Abby tells Owen the first time they meet at the complex’s playground. And despite their growing relationship – a friendship on the cusp of a young adolescent romance – Abby turns out to be right in the end. She really can’t be friends – with anyone, ever.
Vampires were already ubiquitous before the Twilight mania erupted, and now they have become inescapable to the point of exhaustion. But Let Me In, yet another tale about the connection between a human being and an ageless bloodsucker, doesn’t feel trite or cliched. The unusually young age of the protagonists brings a fresh spin to the hoary scenario, and the superb performances by the kids (who outdo their Swedish counterparts) ground the story in adult-sized emotions. Moretz in particular, so awesome as Hit Girl in Kick Ass, proves herself to be a considerable talent, giving Abby an old soul, a childlike innocence and a menacing demeanor – qualities that blend into a unique and intriguing whole.
Although it remains largely faithful to Lindqvist’s novel, Let Me In adds a few new wrinkles (including a hair-raising, bungled murder that results in a spectacular car crash, with the camera sitting in the back seat). And there are a couple of moments of true, unsettling horror, including a gruesome one involving Elias Koteas as a detective investigating a series of serial murders.
For those who have seen Let the Right One In, there is no overcoming the sense of deja vu Let Me In instills: If I hadn’t seen the original, I might have gone ga-ga over Reeves’ version. But even with the shock of novelty gone, the film still draws you into its chilly, demonic heart. “Do you think there is such a thing as evil?” a teary Owen asks his father during a telephone call. Let Me In argues that’s a question a simple yes or no can’t answer.
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Grace Moretz, Elias Koteas, Richard Jenkins.
Director: Matt Reeves.
Screenwriters: Matt Reeves, John Alvide Lindqvist.
Producer: Donna Gigliotti, Alex Brunner, Simon Oakes.
An Overture Films release. Running time: 115 minutes. Vulgar language, considerable violence, gore, naughty children behaving really, really badly. Opens Friday Oct. 1 at area theaters.