Let Me In
Directed by Matt Reeves
Review by Thomas W. Campbell
Directed and adapted by Matt Reeves (who worked in television before directing Cloverfield in 2008), Let Me In (2010) is an inspired and faithful remake of Tomas Alfredson’s exceptional 2008 film Let The Right One In. Based on the book and original screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist, the new film tells the story of two 12 year olds who live in a small town, alienated from everyone else. Owen, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) has lived there his whole life and just seems “different” -; he is quiet, rail-thin, and extremely private. Of course this makes him a perfect target for school bullies and one boy in particular is determined to make Owen’s life one of fear and dread. Chloe Moretz (Kick-Ass) plays Abby, a shy twelve year old, who moves into the apartment next to Owen. They meet one night in the snowy courtyard -; her bare feet the first sign that something is seriously different about her. When Owen discovers that his new friend is a vampire who must drink human blood he’s already in too deep to drop her as a friend.
The new film is such an intelligent take on the original material that it’s easy to forget the many ways a less committed director might have screwed it up. First, the main characters are 12 years old -; too young for the Twilight market. Despite pressure on Reeves to up the age of Abby and Owen (Eli and Oskar in the original) for various reasons -; tapping into the teen market, tapping into the newest teen stars -; he stuck to the original idea. Lindqvist has said that the story in many ways is what he went through as a child – he was thin and bullied at that age and felt the same sense of outsider status as Owen. Secondly, the story is wonderfully contained -; it takes place in a small town which Reeves not only respects but goes a step further in drawing the story even tighter. In the original film there is a town outside of the housing project that Owen and Abby live in. Let Me In is much more enclosed -; in a nice nod to Hitchcock’s Rear Window a number of the characters who will be victimized are introduced early through the eyes of Owen as he watches them across the courtyard through a telescope. Thirdly, no “heroic” characters are added to help the kids through their ordeal. If anything this element is distilled to create an even more essential reality. A plot thread involving a group of “townies” who meet at the local pub is dropped and a single detective is added in their place. There is also an effective structural shift -; the film opens in a hospital with the mysterious death of Abby’s “father” before cutting to two weeks earlier. This adds an element of mystery to the plot that jumpstarts the story by making us wonder who the dead man is and why he died.
Reeves does a great job with the casting, the look of the film and how it sounds. The new film takes place in Los Alamos, New Mexico and keeps the eternal snow and cold of the original. It is also set in the same time period, the early 1980’s, as the book. This means the Reagan era, with it’s promise of “new beginnings” and eternal hope. The acting is exceptional -; Chloe Moretz as Abby and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen are tentative, wary, and extremely subtle with each other. There is a realism to the way that they recognize something in the other that they haven’t found elsewhere. When Abby tells Owen during their first conversation that they can’t be friends the moment has a haunting sadness that can only come from trust in the material and the acting. It’s not enough that Smit-McPhee is an almost impossibly thin actor -; he still needs to bring the vulnerability of the character alive -; which he does in a seemingly effortless way. Richard Jenkins, as the man who watches out for Abby, is perfectly cast -; he’s tired, he’s worn-down by his duties, but he struggles with a grim and sad sense of purpose.
Reeves has also resisted the effort to transform an already smart and scary story into something bigger and more horrific. The killings happen basically the same way in both films – though one is appreciably bloodier and uses some interesting subjective camera to up the quotient of terror. It’s a great looking film, the interior shots and night shots -; in Abby’s apartment, in the courtyard, during the night “hunting” scenes involving the “father” -; are lit for moodiness and fear, dark but never murky. The use of sound and music heighten the suspense throughout the film. When Owen first listens through his wall to events in Abby’s apartment the voices are brutal and angry -; is he really hearing this or is it a trick of the architecture? Later in the film Owen thinks he is alone in a bathroom stall. But harsh sounds and mean voices are heard all around him, seeming to get closer and closer. Finally he looks back and sees, through the crack in the door, someone hurry by. It is a startling moment, and it is set up entirely by the soundtrack.
Let Me In is the kind of intelligent and successful take on the vampire story that works both as horror and well-crafted storytelling. In a cold dark world where nothing good seems likely to happen, Abby and Owen are portrayed in a realistic and understandable way. This makes us really care for them -; even as they do things for love that most of us would find utterly distasteful.