Preceding the end credits for Let Me In, the American remake of Tomas Alfredson’s excellent Swedish vampire firm Let the Right One In, is a giant title card that reads “Written for the screen and Directed by Matt Reeves.”
But don’t be fooled; Reeves is no more involved in the creative process of this film than a Beatles cover band is with their music. Sure, they may sound excellent, look the part and put on one hell of a show, but their success is based predominantly on the groundwork of someone else.
Likewise, Let Me In mimics the mood and mastery of Alfredson’s original almost to the point where you could lift a scene from one and cut it into the other without raising a single eyebrow. Yes, it’s good. But only because the original was good to begin with.
Set in snowy New Mexico during the early 1980s, we follow Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a bullied 12 year-old who spends his nights prying on his neighbours through a telescope, disconnected from his divorcing parents. His curiosity is piqued when a strange girl named Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) moves in next door with her even stranger father (an excellent Richard Jenkins).
Life sucks for Abby; a little too literally when you consider she must drink blood in order to survive. United by their loneliness, Abby forms an immediate bond with Owen, although the attention bought on by the recent spike of murders in their area jeopardises the longevity of their budding romance.
Based on the best seller by Swedish novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let The Right One In and its US derivative thankfully sidestep the tacky new trend in which vampirism is reserved exclusively for ridiculously good-looking teenagers. Lindqvist brings the bloodsucker back to its harrowing horror roots, dealing with the havoc such a damming disease can cause on an individual and the people they love. He does this with such tender restraint, never letting the mythology overshadow the humanity of the characters. Alfredson’s Let the Right One In was about as good as a filmic adaptation could possibly get, employing stark moments of eerie stillness that, through Hoyte van Hoytema’s sublime cinematography, spoke directly to the soul.
The rest of the film, however, spoke in subtitles. And as the film’s box office takings indicate, Western audiences are severely allergic to those.
Enter writer/director Matt Reeves, the man tasked with the unenviable job of ‘Americanising’ a foreign masterpiece in only his second Hollywood outing. Reeves’ debut feature, the 2008 monster movie Cloverfield, radically reworked Godzilla for a contemporary audience, particularly by way of its impressive handycam lensing. Let Me In, on the other hand, adds little more than the English language to Alfredson’s original, failing to adhere to the golden rule of any remake: if you can’t improve it, change it enough to make it your own.
That said, it’s probably best Reeves did remain so faithful to the original given that the changes he has made are to the film’s detriment. Whereas the original allowed the elements of horror to subtly seep in, Let Me In begins with a bang, needlessly flashing-forward to a pivotal scene that spoils a surprise well in advance. Reeves also favours a more ostentatious score and some surprisingly tacky CGI effects that taint the haunting austerity Alfredson so delicately crafted. For a Hollywood production, you’d think the visual effects would be one aspect they would get right. Apparently not.
To be fair, Reeves makes one marked improvement; a spectacular car crash that truly elevates the tension of a scene that was easily forgotten in the original. He’s also managed to evoke some exceptional performances from his cast, particularly Australia’s Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road, Romulus, My Father), who draws beautifully on Owen’s insecurity, often without speaking a word. Opposite him is Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, (500) Days of Summer), an unquestionable talent, but one that doesn’t quite possess the imperative old-soul vibe that Lina Leandersson emanated in the original. I blame casting, not Moretz.
Ultimately, dear reader, I’m torn. If Let Me In were an original studio film, I would lather it with praise for daring to be different. Rarely does Hollywood treat such an exploitable horror premise with the sophistication and style Reeves exhibits here. But the truth is that it’s not an original film, it’s a brazen imitation. And why pay more for an imitation when the original can be rented on DVD for less than half the price?