Where the spooky Swedish film “Let the Right One In” was set (like John Ajvide Lindqvist‘s novel) in an economically depressed apartment complex in early-80s Stockholm, the American remake “Let Me In” paints a similarly bleak picture, taking place in dreary suburban Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1983.
Writer/director Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”) goes further with the context, however. David Bowie’s slick and soulless “Let’s Dance” is the inescapable song heard on everybody’s headphones and Ronald Reagan is on the TV talking about Christian values and evil. The “Satanic panic” was a real thing back then, and a local policeman (Elias Koteas) is sure that a recent string of murders is the work of some sort of Satanic cult.
Meanwhile, a bullied 12-year-old named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is dealing with parents in the middle of a divorce and his mother’s own religious fervor. He spends his time fantasizing about using a knife on his tormentor classmates and spying on his neighbors with a telescope.
Reeves also streamlines the plot of the original movie even further than the film did from the novel, concentrating the bulk of the story on the tender relationship that forms between outcast Owen and his mysterious new neighbor Abby (Chloe Moretz). Abby may not look as otherworldly as frail Lina Leandersson did in “Let the Right One In,” but Moretz seems mature beyond her years–which is essential to the film’s premise.
“Let Me In” doesn’t sport the stark, artfully framed widescreen images that marked its predecessor, but it makes up for it with other interesting stylistic choices. To further amplify Owen’s loneliness, his mother’s face is almost never shown. She’s either got her back turned or is framed from a medium-level camera position that puts her face just out of frame.
Shooting from this vantage point also helps us identify with Owen more. The film hinges on the fact that we see the world from Owen’s point of view. I’ll go even further and say that “Let Me In” feels personal, like Reeves spruced up the screenplay with some vivid memories from his own childhood.
Richard Jenkins (Best Actor nominee for “The Visitor”) gives the creepy character of Abby’s fifty-something protector a pathetic quality that’s rare, considering what he does to keep her safe. With few lines and a small amount of screen time, Jenkins does a lot with a little and its a credit to Reeves that the ambiguous nature of he and Abby’s relationship is preserved to the same level as the original.
Overall, Reeves should be credited with making a film that doesn’t at all subscribe to the kind of over-explaining found in most American horror movies. By concentrating almost exclusively on the eerily strong bonds that childhood can create and virtually ignoring the adult world altogether, he leaves the details a little bit gray.
In some instances, Reeves improves upon “Let the Right One In” by staging a couple of scenes with more suspense (but again, not going overboard as the U.S. trailers might suggest). One in particular begins with a comical amount of desperation from Jenkins and carries that misfortune through to its (one would think) non-cinematic end. Instead, it goes from squirmy uncomfortable to terrifying in a second.
On the other hand, some of the memorable cinematic setpieces from the 2008 film (a figure moving silently up a hospital wall, a climactic pool scene) are rendered a little too faithfully. Sure, they worked perfectly the first time, but couldn’t they have been tweaked a bit more? (Then again, fans who wanted “faithful” would be crying foul!)
It’s a funny feeling, watching a film that so closely resembles “Let the Right One In” (which was #4 on by Best Movies of 2008 list). Before I saw the movie, I was ready to deem it “unnecessary.” If anything, it just proves that this twisted little tale of childhood alienation works across cultures.
Reeves made “Let Me In” relevant to its time period and locale, kept a creepy tone throughout, and guided some truly affecting performances from his actors. I’m curious to hear how people who haven’t seen the original react to this strange and stirring tale.