Saturday, October 9, 2010

Danny Says LET ME IN

LET ME IN Review:

- The Swedish film Let The Right One In was one of those unique films that was practically guaranteed to find a small but devoted cult audience. After having heard a lot of online buzz about it, I went to see the film in one of the few theaters it was playing at here in LA, and I really enjoyed it. Let The Right One In was in many ways the anti-Twilight. Some of the themes were similar, but the interpersonal drama was subtle and understated. The moments of vampiric violence were brutal and shocking. Overall, the movie was atmospheric, methodically-paced, and haunting. Compared to the sound and fury of the typical Hollywood blockbuster, Let The Right One In was a completely different animal. I didn't quite buy into the praise that placed it as the year's best movie or anything, but the movie was so unique that it definitely ranked as one of the most memorable films I'd seen in a long time. It was refreshing to see a horror movie that was so completely different than anything coming out of Hollywood. So of course, it was only a matter of time before the movie was remade -- by Hollywood.

It stands to reason then that there'd be a lot of skepticism around the release of the American remake, LET ME IN. Hollywood has been especially desperate for material of late. Old movies, foreign movies, new movies - *everything* is being remade these days without any good reason other than to release something that has some ounce of presold name recognition. When you take a perfectly good Swedish film and remake it barely two years after the original came out, there is justification to be skeptical.

But here's the good news - LET ME IN is actually a great template for how to do a remake the right way. Have respect for the source material. Get the best cast possible. Preserve the integrity of the original while tweaking things to make things a bit more accessible for the American audience. At the end of the day, did Let The Right One In need to be remade? No. There's no reason that any intelligent person can't go and seek out that film and enjoy it in all of its subtitled glory. In fact, it's fun and interesting to see a movie set in Sweden. It's different. I don't need every film I see to be set in America. I like seeing what other cultures and countries bring to the cinematic table. But, I will also admit that what director Matt Reeves (he of Cloverfield fame) has done here is clever and effective. He's transplanted the story from Sweden to the suburbs of New Mexico circa the early 1980's, quickly establishing a retro-nostalgic, almost Spielbergian vibe. By making his film about lonely kids in suburban America in the 80's, Reeves has made his film instantly accessible and recognizable to people like me. The new combination of story and setting meshes perfectly, chocolate-and-peanut butter style. Nicely done.

To back up and talk for a second about the story - Let Me In shares the same basic setup as Let The Right One In (as well as the original novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist on which it is based). It's the story of a twelve year old boy - Owen - who is an outcast and a loner. He's bullied at school and seemingly friendless (and, in this version, Reeves plays up the fact that Owen's parents are in the process of getting a divorce, another Spielberg-esque touch). One day, Owen meets a new girl that moves into the apartment complex where he and his mom live. The girl - Abby - is similarly quiet and seemingly alone, save for the sullen, brooding man she lives with, presumably her dad (not quite, as it turns out). Owen and Abby strike up a friendship, and before long Owen is completely taken by this mysterious girl who never gets cold and doesn't go to school. Slowly but surely, the truth about Abby comes out - a truth very much connected to a series of ritualistic murders plaguing the town where she and Owen live. A truth involving fangs, aversion to sunlight, and an unquenchable thirst for blood. And so the question becomes - how does the sad, angry Owen react when he finds out that his only friend, an innocent-looking girl, is, as she says "not a girl," but something much stranger and more terrifying.

As in the original, the story makes for a disturbing, thought-provoking, and emotionally-gripping tale of good and evil, of friendship and loyalty. I'll be honest though, when all was said and done, Let Me In, as a whole, worked for me better than the Swedish version. The two films are, in fact, VERY similar. There are a number of scenes here that feel like almost shot-for-shot recreations of the Swedish film. But, Let Me In has a key advantage in the form of the absolutely mesmerizing performances from its two young leads.

Chloe Moretz might just be THE young actress to watch. She completely stole the show earlier this year in Kick-Ass, and she delivers another knockout performance in Let Me In. She is awesome in this film - sad, empathetic, scary. Chloe Moretz as the vampiric girl Abby might just be one of the very best performances I've seen so far this year. Similarly excellent is Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen. McPhee was excellent last year in the underrated The Road, and is great once again in this one. While the Owen character (then named Oscar) in the Swedish version was so quirky as to be almost unintentionally comical at times, McPhee makes his version vulnerable yet angry, silent yet brimming with emotion. It's a nuanced, textured performance, and you really buy into the friendship / young love between Owen and Abby. I give Matt Reeves and co. a ton of credit for elevating the material by casting two such talented child actors. And of course there's Richard Jenkins, as Abby's grimly subserviant caretaker (listed only as "the Father" in the credits). Jenkins has minimal dialogue, but imbues his character with a wealth of emotion - desperation, sadness, duty. Reeves gives his movie a little extra sizzle by spending some quality time with Jenkins as he performs his nightly blood-runs. There are some dynamite scenes in which the aging caretaker struggles to claim his latest victims. Reeves even juxtaposes some very scary and intense violence with some rocking 80's tunes for added cool-factor.

Overall, I think Reeves takes what works about Let The Right One In and just adds a little extra juice. The music, the 80's ambiance, the camera-work, the little added moments of heightened horror intensity - all that combined with the amazing acting makes LET ME IN an absolutely top-notch production that sucks you in and doesn't let up. At times, I did feel like I was merely rewatching the original (and yes, in some cases - like the famous swimming pool scene - there's just no way that Reeves could hope to top it, so he basically just copies it). But, the darkly affecting themes of the story resonated more strongly, and the intensity was ratcheted up. The retro-80's vibe added that extra layer of cool, and it just felt right for the story and the movie. Again, the good news is that this isn't some slick, brainless Hollywood remake - it's a new version that's as cerebral, atmospheric, and involving as the original. Judged on its own merits, LET ME IN is very much worth checking out - it's up there as one of the best American horror movies of the last few years.

My Grade: A-

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