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.