With Let Me In, Matt Reeves, the director of the under appreciated Cloverfield (2007), has created a superb re-adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqist’s novel, and respectfully acknowledges and certainly does justice to Thomas Alfredson’s outstanding Swedish language original adaptation, Let the Right One In (2008). With the exception of the change of location, now set in New Mexico, the alteration and elimination of a few minor plots points, and some effective stylistic twists, Let Me In serves as an almost shot-for-shot re-imagining of Alfredson’s film. Like its predecessor, it stands as one of the definitive genre films of the last decade and it’s one of last years best releases. As unnerving and emotionally gripping as the original and certainly as powerful, Let Me In is sure to impress both lovers of the original and those new to the story.
The central character of Let Me In is Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road), an unhappy and lonely 12-year-old misfit who finds himself the victim of some serious bullying from his classmates at school, and comes home to a broken home with his parents divorced and his father living away. He fantasizes about fighting back against his tormentors, but lacks the courage. He even buys a knife and pretends that a tree in the courtyard is a bully and he aggressively stabs at it. He is kept under strict supervision from his workaholic mother, and finds solace each evening out in the courtyard at the centre of his apartment block. The film introduces a Rear Window-like surveillance sequence as he spends one night swiveling his telescope around the surrounding apartments spying on his neighbours. It is this night that he spots the new arrival of a young girl and her father/guardian, who move in next door. We soon discover that this girl is named Abby (Chloe Moretz, Kick Ass), a pretty but peculiar girl who wanders through the snow covered courtyard barefoot, and possesses incredible puzzle solving skills when she completes Owen’s Rubik’s Cube. The pair, both independent social misfits, seem to immediately bond and find comfort confiding in one another. But Abby has a sinister secret; she requires blood to survive. Her guardian (played by Richard Jenkins) begins targeting some of the young people in the town, and draining them of their blood to feed to Abby. In one of the film’s many chilling sequences, he hides in the back seat of the car of one of the school’s young graduates, and breaks his neck. He ties him upside down and then drains blood from his carotid artery into a bottle. The next day, the young boy is discovered murdered, and the local Police Chief (Elias Koteas) takes up the case.
After the body of another man is found frozen in the ice and following an attack by Abby on one of Owen’s neighbors, Abby finds herself the subject of the investigation. The eternal bond between the two becomes so apparent in the films’ gripping final sequences. Owen is exposed to such violence, both as a witness and as a victim, and his vulnerability is exposed to a terrifying extreme. All of his childhood innocence is lost, while Abby’s love for Owen is clearly proven. Like Alfredson’s film, the bloodiest sequence is left until the end, and it’s a formidable opponent to the original, but I did prefer Alfredson’s. Whether you interpret Let Me In as a horror film, as a serial killer thriller, or as a coming-of-age romance, it is a memorable experience. While I loved Alfredson’s film and still consider it superior, and while I am genuinely disappointed at Western audiences’ aversion to subtitles that resulted in the idea of this remake, this was a very accomplished horror film and I walked out of the cinema thinking I had seen few that had resonated so strongly with me in a long time.
Both of the leads are fantastic, and they incredibly mimic the mannerisms of their previous performers from Let the Right One In, but also add their own personal touches to their characters. They are both warmly adorable and have great chemistry and their bond is completely convincing. But Smit-McPhee is a revelation here, having already garnered recognition and praise alongside Eric Bana in Romulus, My Father and Viggo Mortensen in The Road. While Moretz, who shocked audiences with her role as Hit Girl in the earlier 2010 release, Kick Ass, proves her maturity with this excellent performance.
Let Me In is marvelously shot, brilliantly capturing the atmosphere of the original but actually furthering the film’s intensity. The changes made by Reeves also work well, most notably the decision to have Richard Jenkins follow his targeted victims by hiding in the back of their cars, and moving the hospital scene to the very beginning, allowing Reeves to introduce Elias Koteas’ detective character and to use him throughout the entire film. There are some genuinely scary moments, and the car crash sequence is particularly outstanding. It is also quite bloody and grotesquely brutal and we see more of Abby’s transformed state in Reeves’ film. The visual effects used to intensify Abby’s attacks on her victims are somewhat unnecessary though. Michael Giacchino’s pulsing score, which I found to be a bit irritating to begin with, was an excellent accompaniment throughout. Reeves has tried to replicate the original and has well and truly succeeded. While it would have been great to see Reeves adapt the novel from an even fresher angle, his film is a great film because Alfredson’s is.
Notes: Rated R for strong bloody horror violence, language and a brief sexual situation.
How do you compare Let Me In to the Swedish original? Do you prefer it? Based on the success and quality of this Swedish to American re-make, how confident are you of Fincher turning out a great adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo?