Sunday, September 26, 2010

Let Me In

In 2008, Swedish director Tomas Alfredson directed Let the Right One In, a movie based on the best-selling Swedish novel of the same name. The movie won critical acclaim across the world - rightly so, since it's an excellent film - and its international popularity spurred studios to remake it for an English-speaking audience. Matt Reeves (writer and director of Cloverfield) was chosen to take on the challenge of directing the next adaptation. But Reeves was fighting an uphill battle from the start: many fans of the original were displeased with the prospect of a remake, and nearly wrote the movie off before seeing it. So, what's the verdict? Keep reading to find out.

Let Me In
Writer/Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas

In my opinion, Let Me In is a totally unnecessary film. That's not to say it's bad - quite the opposite, in fact. I enjoyed the film, and it's a perfectly fine piece of craftsmanship all around. But it bears such a heavy resemblance to Alfredson's 2008 film that I simply don't think it should have been made in the first place. I think the fear of this remake was that in an "Americanized" version, the heart of the original would be lost. I'm happy to report this is not the case - if anything, this movie relies too heavily on Alfredson's vision and just barely offers enough variation on the story to justify its existence.

Set in 1980's New Mexico, the story follows Owen, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road), a young boy who is savagely bullied at school. He meets Abby, played by Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass), a strange girl who moves into his apartment complex. As the two strike up a friendship, it becomes clear to Owen that Abby is actually a vampire. She has a caretaker, played by Richard Jenkins (The Visitor), who is tasked with killing people to provide blood for her, and much of the drama comes from watching these scenarios unfold. Elias Koteas (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) plays a policeman trying to solve the murders.

The film does many things right, providing an eerie darkness to the wintry setting and capturing the viciousness of bullying in a school environment. The performances are all very good - the kids in particular deliver some striking work, forcing me to question my usual "I despise kids in movies" mantra. Reeves made a much darker movie with Let Me In, not as quiet and contemplative as the original, but still capturing the essence of what made that movie great. Key scenes (like one that takes place in a pool) are preserved in their entirety and not dumbed down or altered for the mainstream.

Reeves attempts to apply his own stamp to the film, and while I don't think he truly accomplished that goal, he certainly added improving elements along the way. There was an impressive car crash sequence that wasn't featured in the original (reminiscent of the only good part of Terminator Salvation). He also succeeds in giving the movie a nice sense of atmosphere, especially when it comes to the the isolation Owen feels during his parents' divorce (his mother's face is never completely visible, for example). The cinematography was haunting and beautiful, starting with an opening shot of ambulances travelling through the New Mexico landscape in an homage to Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars. There's also a really great shot late in the movie of Owen peering through a frosty window at an empty playground after he witnesses something horrifying; it's a fantastic visual representation of innocence lost.

If I were to nitpick an aspect of the film, it would be the CGI employed during Moretz's vampire sequences. It takes you out of the story a bit, seeing her move in ways that humans can't. The original succeeded because it grounded that character in a quasi-reality, using mostly practical effects and not relying on crazy visuals to get the same effect. There was another sequence - I won't give it away, I'll only say it involves fire - that was also much more effective in the original than in this one because of an over-reliance on CGI in the latter. (To the film's credit, though, Let Me In wisely excised a ridiculous CGI cat sequence from Let the Right One In.)

I apologize for continually comparing this movie to the original, but aside from our natural human instinct for comparison in these situations, this case is even more difficult because they are so incredibly similar throughout. Ultimately, I think Let Me In will serve exactly the purpose that the studio intended: to expose this story to a wider audience in an English capacity. And that's totally fine, since Let Me In is a really solid movie. I just wish more people would seek out Let the Right One In since it essentially "did it first" and it truly is almost the same movie except with subtitles. Until next time...

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