Writer / director Matt Reeves had one film under his belt behind the camera before Let Me In, and that was Cloverfield. In all honesty, I really enjoyed Cloverfield and how it departed from the typical monster-movie fare. Which was all the more reason to be concerned about Let Me In. The movie is Reeves' adaptation of the 2008 Swedish film Let The Right One In, which was in turn based on the 2004 Swedish novel of the same name. Confused yet? Well, you'll be even more confused after you read my review of this film, which I saw at the opening movie at Austin's geek/genre film festival, Fantastic Fest.
But, to save you headache and confusion at the box office, I will say this: I both recommend and condemn this film at the same time. Read on to find out why.
First and foremost, Let Me In should not exist as a movie. I know people are excited about Matt Reeves as a director, and I definitely think he has some serious skill in that department. People were also excited that this remake would be relaunching the Hammer Films brand after a 30 year absence in theaters. But, neither one of those things overshadow the fact that Tomas Alfredson's film Let The Right One In was a masterpiece. Plus, it came out just two years ago. Do we need a remake, and why would we need it so soon? It's like a director seeing Citizen Kane back in 1941 and saying, "Hmm. I like that. I can do better."
The entire process has been a smack in the face to Alfredson, who said, "The saddest thing for me would be to see this beautiful story made into something mainstream. I don't like to whine, but of course – if you spent years on painting a picture, you'd hate to hear buzz about a copy even before your vernissage!" Sounds snooty, right? Especially since he used a fancy French word which means basically a private art showing. But, I get his meaning. You don't want someone to come along while the ink on your work is still drying and take their own stab at it. Producer Simon Oakes says it's to make the film "very accessible to a wider audience," but wouldn't the best way to do that be to give the original a wide release and marketing campaign?
What's more upsetting is that Reeves' film is nearly a carbon copy at times. There are shots and sequences that look like they were lifted directly from the original, and not anything new to justify its own existence. With most remakes, the directors try something radically new, like making Starbuck a female in Battlestar Galactica, but not creating a shot by shot remake like Gus Van Sant did with the terrible 1998 version of Psycho. Why not bring something entirely new to the table? Reeves simply changed the setting to New Mexico in the early 1980s, which is the time period in which the novel is set.
Anyhow, I can't recommend Let The Right One In enough. Both the book and the film. It's available now on DVD and Blu-ray, and on Netflix's Watch Instantly, so it's easily accessible. But enough about my problems with remake in general. I just wanted that stuff down in writing so you'd know where I was soapboxing from. Now, on to Let Me In. If someone brain-flashed me with that little silver device from Men In Black, then yes, I would have seriously enjoyed this movie. Why? Because it's solid, well-directed, and with terrific performances from Kodi Smit-McPhee (from The Road), Chloë Moretz (Kick-Ass), and Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under). Reeves also manages to impress with a newly created car sequence that is powerfully explosive.
In a nutshell, and if you've even heard a whisper about either film, you know that the movie is about a young girl turned vampire, who moves into a new town. A bullied young loner named Owen befriends her, and slowly learns that his new friend is different from everyone else. But this doesn't stop him from remaining loyal and faithful, probably because she represents the only friend he has. They're both outcasts in different directions, and the somewhat effeminate Smit-McPhee plays his part perfectly. If you ever didn't fit into a social group, you'll identify with the problems he's going through.
Chloë Moretz is adequate as Abby, although it is hard to identify with her and innocent and childlike after watching her shed so much blood in Kick-Ass. Plus she has a tendency to telegraph the fact that she's acting, and sometimes you feel like she's trying to hard to emote in a scene. Smit-McPhee makes it seem easy, and Moretz feels like she's working from time to time. The always reliable Richard Jenkins isn't given much to work with as Abby's guardian, but he grounds his character with realism, and you really pull for the guy. In the entire film, he's definitely the most tragic figure.
The film's 1980s setting feels natural, and not tacked on or overused, even when Owen and Abby visit an arcade filled with period-specific video games. The camerawork and the pacing are more than adequate, and the only thing that really feels out of place is Michael Giacchino's score. Normally I really dig his work, but here it was either nearly absent, or distracting. In a perfect world, you'll go out and find Let The Right One In (which definitely should be seen first), then go see Let Me In and make your mind up on your own. But chances are that most American audiences will sadly eschew the subtitles of the Swedish version for the multiplex edition that's available now. It's a decent enough film, but I just can't ignore what it is basically a carbon copy of. Let's hope that Reeves' next film returns him to something wholly original.
Let Me In opens in wide release today. Have you seen it? Or the original? What do you think?