Archive for October 18, 2010

"Let Me In" Movie Poster

It’s a tough thing to determine, isn’t it? Knowing exactly when you fell in love. But I swear I fell in love with writer-director Matt Reeves’ Let Me In at some point during its hour-and-45-minutes-or-so run time. And I sure wasn’t expecting to, which makes it all the more enjoyable an experience.

Like most folks, you see, I was already enamored with the 2008 Swedish film that this was based on, Let the Right One In. I saw no point in remaking it , especially this soon, and when I heard that Reeves, who directed the abominably-overrated Cloverfield, was helming the project, I was even more, shall we say, underwhelmed.

Going in expecting nothing (but admittedly excited that this movie marked the much-anticipated return of the legendary Hammer Films label), I left the theater positively ready to do a fist-pump into thin air, elated with the knowledge — not just opinion, oh no — that a great new horror auteur had arrived on the scene and that Matt Reeves in, in short, “Da Man.”

And the thing is, I don’t know how the hell he did it. Let Me In is something unique, I feel, in the annals of horror cinema — a movie that stays true — hell, even reverential —to its source material, while never feeling anything less than completely and utterly fresh and original throughout.

A lot of that is down to the story. Reeves adapted this not so much from the original screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist, but from the same author’s original novel. So rather than remake the original film, his idea was to offer a different cinematic interpretation of the book upon which it was based. The difference may seem academic, but I assure you it makes all the difference in the world. And the story is remarkably simple, and remarkably effective — a young “outsider”-type kid who’s always bullied at school and has no friends meets a new girl who moves in next door and slowly both falls in love with her and, simultaneously, learns she’s a vampire. It’s long been said that many horror stories are just allegories for the onset of puberty and the supposed “loss of innocence” that occurs with sexual awakening, particularly in relation to the beginning of the menstrual cycle in young women, but this scaled-back take on the theme doesn’t even bother to really lay much allegorical cover on said premise — that’s exactly what it’s about, and it makes no bones about it. Three cheers and then some for that kind of innate honesty in an industry that so often buries any honest impulses it’s even capable of recognizing.

Next up we’ve got the young actors themselves. Much as I’m predisposed to hate anyone with a name like Kodi Smit-McPhee, the fact is that as the young boy at the heart of this tale, Owen, he’s just plain sensational. He looks awkward, acts awkward, and is so naturalistic and unforced that all you can think is “wow, this kid’s got a hell of a future in front of him.”  As for the vampire girl, Abby, herself, Chloe Moretz proved in Kick-Ass that she’s a youthful force to be reckoned with (she literally stole the show in that movie), and she cements that impression here. It’s certainly rare for a film aimed at a decidedly adult audience to count on two very young actors to carry the story, and these two certainly do. Their performances are gripping, believable, and just plain downright extraordinary.

One area where I was sure this would pale in comparison to the original was in cinematography. Let the Right One In was so goddamn beautiful to look at that each frame could be hung up as a framed museum piece. Well, guess what? Same thing here. Greig Fraser has forged an entirely new and more claustrophobic look, but it’s no less effective and no less gorgeous to look at. It’s less wide-open and much more confined, more just-plain-dark and less muted, but damn if it isn’t every bit as gorgeous in its own bleak way.

Apart from transposing the action from the frozen northern reaches of Sweden to the US (Los Alamos, New Mexico to be precise — depicted here as a frozen hinterland, a decision I don’t at all understand but that adds an ethereal and otherworldly quality to the proceedings, I must admit), the screenplay holds pretty true to what we’ve seen before — but the artistic interpretation Reeves offers is so fundamentally different, yet every bit as authentic and, as I mentioned before, faithful — that you feel like what you’re seeing is just another artist’s interpretation of the same material rather than a remake per se.

I went into Let Me In expecting to be comparing each and every scene to its predecessor and, naturally, to find this new version coming up short on every score. Somewhere along the way I gave that expectation up and just began enjoying the ride, and sometime after that I went a step further and  started appreciating this for not being a great remake, but a truly remarkable film in its own right.

The fact that I can’t pinpoint exactly when those shifts in perspective occured is testament to what a fine job Reeves and company have done here. Even though we’ve seen this story done in the very recent past, we haven’t seen it done like this —  although I should stress once again that this isn’t in any way unfaithful, or even a radical re-working of any sort. Like its predecessor, Let Me In is an instant horror classic, one that stands just as well either alone or in comparison to its Swedish progenitor. I’m truly hard-pressed to say which is better, and frankly I don’t even care. One gets extra points for doing it first, the other gets extra points for, frankly, on the whole doing it better. Both are every-bit-as-essential works of vampire cinema as Dracula, Nosferatu, or Vampyr, and neither is to be missed under any circumstances. Rather than being in competition with each other, they actually complement each other beautifully. Let the Right One In hasn’t been remade as Let Me In, it’s been reimagined. And while that sounds both corny and pretentious, the fact remains that it’s absolutely true.

"My Soul To Take" Movie Poster

So, it’s October, and that means it’s non-stop horror review month here at TFG. Last year I went with the “Halloween countdown” theme, only it wasn’t really much of a countdown, so this year I’m going with a 12-pack theme. I’ll take a look at a dozen different horror flicks, from the grindhouse fare I typically cover to bona fide classics to straight-to-video low-budgeters to some of the current theatrical releases that Hollywood is trying to use to separate you from your hard-earned cash to everything in between. And I’ll start our survey of the horror landscape with the latest from Wes Craven, since in my book it still qualifies as an “event” when the guy who wrote and directed The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, A Nightmare on Elm Street and The Serpent and the Rainbow, among others, comes out with a new flick. In 3-D, no less!

Let’s start right there, shall we? Yeah, judging a 3-D film on its overall usage of this resurgent and supposedly “improved” technology isn’t fair to the story, the direction, the performances, etc. But still. This was shot specifically for 3-D, rather than having the effects added in post-production, and 3-D is being used as its main selling point, so it deserves to have its 3-d-ness, or whatever it’s called, critiqued.

In short, it sucks. There’s no need for this movie to be in 3-D at all, there are very few jump-out-of-your-seat moments (and those that are on offer would be just fine in 2-D), and 3-D adds nothing to the overwhelming majority of the scenes. If you’re determined to see this flick, save yourself a few bucks and catch it in regular 2-D, you won’t be missing a thing.

That being said, the sad truth here is that you won’t be missing a thing if you skip My Soul to Take altogether. Craven is mining somewhat similar territory to the original A Nightmare on Elm Street here, only doing it much less effectively, and frankly much more tentatively.

We’ve got the usual all-teenage cast here, with a protagonist named Bug (Max Thieriot) who’s having a hard time differentiating dreams from reality. Bug’s part of a group of kids known as “The Riverton Seven,” who hail from a small town named — you guessed it! — Riverton, and were all born, coincidentally enough, on the same night that a local serial killer named — you guessed it again! — The Riverton Ripper was finally killed by the local cops. Legend has it that the Ripper transferred a piece of his soul into each of these kids and that one of these years, on the anniversary of his death, he’s going to come back and exact his revenge on the town and kill The Riverton Seven (even though his soul supposedly lives on in them) and anyone else he feels like. Or something. What he’s going to do and how he’s going to do it is never truthfully spelled out all that well.

Anyway, members of this oh-so-special group of seven start getting killed, Bug keeps seeing shit in his dreams, and we’re supposed to think that maybe he’s killing them. Or, again, something. You never really get the impression that Bug’s the mass-murdering type even though he’s supposed to seem like it, but Craven doesn’t make him seem like anything more than a giant red herring from the get-go. In truth, the biggest surprise he could play would be to reveal that Bug is, in fact, the killer.

So is he? I’m not going to say in case you really are hell-bent on seeing this thing, but I will say this — for a movie that flirts with the subconscious and the supernatural in an explicit, not just thematic, sense throughout, the story’s Scooby Doo-style, “I’d have gotten away with it all if it wasn’t for you meddling kids” ending feels like a pretty massive cop-out.

On the plus side, you’ll be too inured to actually caring about what the fuck happens in this film by that point to feel to disappointed. That’s because not only has Craven put together a “mystery” that’s frankly well-nigh impossible to get involved in here, he’s populated it with characters that are so unrealistic that you couldn’t care less about them, either. His teenagers are all too clever by half, too mature, and frankly too uninteresting to really involve you with their “struggles.” Like the old redneck bumpersticker says, kill ’em all and let God sort it out.

I don’t take any pleasure in slagging off a Wes Craven product this completely. This guy has earned his “horror legend” label and is a profoundly skilled writer and director. But My Soul to Take feels like he’s mailing it in, and frankly might be just plain out of ideas. “I haven’t gut much of a script here, but if we shoot it in 3-D it might just put some butts in the seats” is the overwhelming feeling I walked away from this one with.

Take another nice, long break, Wes. You’ve earned it, to be sure, but this movie proves that you obviously need it, too.