Let Me In
Vampire tale has blood ties to a fine Swedish film
It’s perfectly fair to ask: Why a Hollywood remake of “Let the Right One In,’’ the cult 2008 Swedish film about a bullied boy who makes friends with the vampire girl next door? The answer’s perfectly simple: so that more of you will see it, so that money can be made. As a business decision, “Let Me In’’ is a no-brainer, and it lands on the shoulders of writer-director Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield’’) to make the movie matter as more than product.
Has he succeeded? It’s an honorable attempt, but there’s still no genuine need for this film to exist. I almost wish they’d just sicced the vampire girl on Edward Cullen of “Twilight’’ and called it “Let the Right One Win.’’ In its defense, “Let Me In’’ is as cool and controlled as its cinematic source (both movies have their roots in a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist), and response from early reviewers and in the horror-movie blogosphere has been unexpectedly positive. Yet as someone who has seen “Let the Right One In’’ and therefore can’t un-see it, I kept glimpsing the original behind the tracing paper of the new film and wishing I could tear the paper away.
If you haven’t seen “Let the Right One In’’ this won’t be an issue, and the story’s eerie balance of emotional tenderness and rapacious carnage may hit you full force. I will say that Kodi Smit-McPhee — he played Viggo Mortensen’s son in “The Road’’ — is excellent as Owen, the beleaguered 12-year-old at the heart of “Let Me In.’’ His mom a Bible-thumping lush (she’s played by Cara Buono, though we never see her face), his dad out of the picture, Owen is a vaguely creepy loner who’s tormented by a hulking classmate (Dylan Minnette, exquisitely horrid). Owen likes knives a bit too much; left to his own devices, he’ll probably grow up to be a serial killer.
A 12-year-old girl named Abby (Chloe Moretz) moves into the apartment next door with a man who appears to be her father (Richard Jenkins); over the course of several nights in the snowy courtyard, she and Owen form a bond even as she insists “we can’t be friends.’’ Without much pussyfooting around, the film lets us know how “father’’ goes about procuring Abby’s dietary needs, and “Let Me In’’ is at its grim best showing what tedious, backbreaking work it can be preparing human beings for slaughter.
Moretz made a splash earlier this year as the foul-mouthed Hit Girl in “Kick-Ass,’’ but she knows the subversiveness of this movie is in the writing rather than the playing. She and Smit-McPhee make a touchingly quiet pair of outcasts and Jenkins manages to imply his character’s awful backstory through his nuanced stoop. Where the original established the apartment house’s community of scruffy losers, “Let Me In’’ cuts them back to a handful and brings on Elias Koteas as a cop trying to solve the slayings — an example of the remake’s conventional thinking.
Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser turn the wintry wastelands of New Mexico into stark visual poetry, yet the rhymes feel forced. The filmmakers have translated the calm Nordic chill of the original film into overly controlled shot language: frames by IKEA. When the director tries revving things up, as he does in the gruesome swimming pool climax, he just gets sloppy. Where the remake most disappoints is in its unconvincing special effects: Abby climbing up walls like a cheap computer-generated spider and a hospital nurse bursting into flames in a convincing imitation of a 1980s B horror flick. (The film, like the novel and first film, is set in the ’80s, too.)
What this well-intended but cautious and contrived