As a rule Hollywood will jump at any opportunity to make money. That is not a criticism; it is the truth for any industry, however most people tend to forget that making movies is mostly about making money. With that in mind comes Matthew Reeves’s fun, yet fairly unnecessary, remake of the 2008 Swedish hit, “Let the Right One In,” now entitled “Let Me In.” In the press materials the producers make the claim that they wanted to bring the film to a larger audience, but that just goes to show, not only the way producers see American viewers, but the reality of American viewers’ tastes.
In this incarnation the action is relocated from a frozen Northern European village to the winter wilds of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Reeves’ screenplay plops the viewer in the middle of the narrative in an effort to start off with an action packed bang, only to recede two weeks to when a young girl, Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her caretaker (Richard Jenkins) move in next to lonely outcast Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) in a small apartment complex.
After having been bullied at school Owen spends his nights in the snowy courtyard where he meets Abby for the first time, the “girl” wearing no coat and no shoes. They are immediately drawn to each other, and us to them, as the two young actors inhabit their characters very well with good chemistry, a rare occurrence for thespians of that age, especially in such a dark picture. Both actors, however, have cut their teeth on some unsettling work previous, Smit-McPhee as the emaciated wanderer in “The Road” and Moretz as the foul-mouthed Hit Girl, the unquestionable stand out in “Kick-Ass.” Their resume’s not dominated by the typical kiddy fare may have helped them ease into the bleak, darkness that is this picture.
Along with the good casting Reeves’ style is on full display here. After his disappointing, yet over-hyped debut feature, “Cloverfield,” Reeves seems like he has something to prove. His deliberate pacing and strong camera work are a virtue to the film, but always seem to be trying to distance itself from Tomas Alfredson’s original film at times, and trying to out-do it at others. Starting off with the action packed rush to the hospital across the icy terrain will draw the audience in, but also is making the statement that this film is going to be a different animal from the original. The stylistic flourishes during the car crash that precipitates that rush to the hospital, and especially the climactic pool sequence seem to be looking back at the original with a competitive eye, hoping to win some points.
The unfortunate problem is that he can do neither. No matter how good the picture is, “Let the Right One In,” was such an instant classic the best Reeves can hope for is to do just what the producers wanted, to bring this story to a larger audience. From that opening sequence to the way Reeves chooses to show Abby in her vampire state it is clear all involved want to make this film more easily digestible for the American palate. Overall the biggest differences from the Swedish version are the action being bigger and louder, just like the exposition.
One of the strengthsof John Ajvide Lindqvist’s work (he wrote both the screenplay and novel “Let the Right One In”) was the ambiguity of the relationship between the little girl and her caretaker. In Reeves’ version the nature of the relationship, and its origins are a little more clear; not totally, but just enough that it will not leave a large swath of the audience scratching their heads.
Also Reeves’ portrayal of Abby as a sweet girl one minute, and pale eyed monster the next gives her an other worldly character that makes her easy to identify with a horror mythology that has been beaten into the American psyche, as of late more so that ever. Not only is the director competing with the preceding film, but also with the prevalent trend in vampire stories, wanting to make this one unique, but not straying far enough as to alienate viewers who have become accustomed to seeing their vampires a certain way. As such Abby’s transition into vampire is not half as scary as that of Eli’s in “Let the Right One In,” because in that film there was no transition.
Unfortunately for this film there was an original. Had there not this version would have been a triumph of the genre; a smart, well made thriller that uses the fantasy element to tell an interesting coming of age story. Too bad all of those things were already said of one film made out of the source material, and this version does not attempt to stray from that film enough for it to be seen as its own entity. Reeves’ script is too close to that of Lindqvist’s, his direction too similar to Alfredson’s, so in the end why see this version? The other one has subtitles, you say? Oh never mind, just see this one instead.
El Luchador Rating: 3 out of 5
Review By: Paul S. Myers (a.k.a. El Luchador)