Saturday, November 06, 2010

Review - Let Me In

When Let the Right One In was first released on DVD in the US, there was much anger over the subtitles on the disc, which appeared to be a simplified and dumbed-down version of those that appeared on the theatrical release. For many fans of that Swedish horror, the title of Matt Reeves' American remake, Let Me In, might suggest a similar policy at work, ironing out complexities and making the film more palatable for a mainstream audience who can't be bothered reading subtitles. Such accusations do carry some weight, it must be said, because there really is no reason for Let Me In to exist. For the most part, the film slavishly adheres to the template of the original – sometimes looking like a shot-for-shot remake – but I came away from Let Me In liking the film a lot more than I expected to, and in some regards actually admiring it more than its acclaimed predecessor. Let Me In might well be a pointless exercise, but as pointless exercises go, it's not a bad effort.

I should say at this point that I never quite saw Let the Right One In as the masterpiece that many hailed it as, but it's an undeniably beautiful and bold film, filled with numerous remarkable sequences and driven by two excellent performances from its young leads. Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel has much to recommend it, but I found it oddly unsatisfying, respecting it more as a collection of standout scenes and daring choices rather than embracing it as a fully accomplished and cohesive horror.

Let Me In shares many of the original's virtues and flaws, while offering up a few additional virtues and flaws of its own. The story remains essentially the same, focusing on two lonely children, each troubled in their own way. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is friendless and frequently at the mercy of the school bullies, while the breakup of his parents' marriage ensures his home life offers little stability or comfort. The only person he connects with Abby (Chloe Moretz), the girl who moves in next door and only comes out at night. Abby is a vampire, living with her guardian (Richard Jenkins, fine if underused), who has to go out at night and find blood to satisfy her insatiable hunger. The smartest decision Reeves makes in his adaptation is to focus more intently on the emotional connection between Owen and Abbey, and he is rewarded by excellent performances from his young actors, with the mysterious Moretz and vulnerable McPhee bringing a sense of intimacy and tentative affection to their quiet scenes together. In fact, Let Me In is just as effective – perhaps even more so – when regarded as a story of teenage romance and a coming-of-age tale than as a horror.

Reeves makes a few judicious choices elsewhere in his handling of Let Me In. The ambiguity over Abby's gender – depicted in a confusing, muddled fashion by Alfredson – is dropped here, as is the rather silly cat sequence from the original, while the addition of a car crash sequence filmed entirely from the back seat works superbly. Generally, however, Let Me In is at its best in the quieter moments, wherein Reeves can establish a mood of encroaching dread, and the unconvincing, CGI-enhanced method of Abby's attacks unfortunately tends to punctuate the sinister atmosphere. Despite such missteps (and the director's overreliance on 80's pop references), Let Me In strikes me as a more fully formed film than Let the Right One In, even if it lacks the original film's ambition and imagination. The sense of warmth that Reeves manages to inject into the central relationship gives the film a greater dramatic pull, and it simply feels more consistent overall, although it is similarly let down by the unsatisfying and implausible climax. Let Me In is a commendable piece of work then, and instead of the lazy, rushed travesty that fans must have feared, Reeves has unexpectedly produced a film that still possesses some bite.