A blog about movies and filmmaking.

LET ME IN, But Make Sure I’m The Right One

In Horror on September 30, 2010 at 2:49 am

I previously reviewed the 2008 Swedish movie, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (in the same post as I talked about TWILIGHT – will the movie Gods ever forgive me?), a beautiful movie that showed us the simplicity of first love, and the horrors it can bring with it. Now, two years later comes the American remake. Trading out the cold winter of 1980’s Stockholm; for the just as dreary snows of 1980’s Los Alamos, New Mexico. Let me just tell you now, while the new movie is very good, it is indeed just a cheap knock-off of the original. It offers some better thrills and different chills than the original, but it lacks the heart and ambiguity that is what I believe made people love LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. Other than that, I’m going to do my best to remark on Matt Reeves’ newest movie, LET ME IN, without holding it up to the other.

The movie starts with a snowy night, and a few emergency vehicles driving – well, sliding really – down a treacherous road. We cut inside the ambulance and see paramedics wrestling with a patient and the driver radioing in the man’s status. We cut to the hospital, where then President, Ronald Reagan is talking about evil. Then the patient from before is found having fallen out his hospital window.

Cut to: two weeks earlier.

I’m describing this, not because I want to talk about the goopiness of the scene (we don’t see much), or even about how that political climate eerily echoes our present one. Instead I want to comment on how this beginning to the movie, doesn’t seem to trust the audience that we’ll be able to accept this movie for what it’s going to be. Instead, it has to say, “look, scary and gross stuff. It’s coming!” The majority of this movie is about two kids learning about love for the first time (the boy is even learning about Romeo & Juliet in school – which I thought seemed a little mature for 12 year olds. Especially since they’re also watching the same 60’s film adaptation I had to watch in high school. (There were boobs, it was cool.) Starting us off with the stunning scene set far into the narrative is a cheat, and one that feels forced. Given Reeves’ background, working with a certain JJ Abrams, I can see the love of flashbacks/forwards/sideways/whatever. But, c’mon! Give it to us straight.

I know, I’ve already gone a long way in criticizing the movie and I’m only at the beginning. But, honestly, besides that false start the rest of the movie is pretty fantastic. It’s slow-paced, it’s horrifying and tense in more scenes that it’s not. And at it’s center is the story of first love, between two kids that overlook each other’s short-comings. (One’s kind of girlie, and the other’s a vampire.) There are a number of moments where instead of Owen (played by Kodi Smit-McPhee) running away in terror, he hands out a hug. How many horror stories give you that twist. Nancy never hugged Freddie. Random camp-counselor ho-bag never hugged Jason. There may have been some hugs in HALLOWEEN, but I digress.

And throughout the movie, Michael Giacchino’s score is so soft and to an extent, light-hearted, that I almost felt a tinge of old  Amblin movies. (Look it up, if you don’t know what that means.) But don’t worry, Giacchino fans, there’s bombast too and it’s marvelous. The main, two kid actors work very well together. Which I will admit, I was worried about. Not for their skill level, but in that Chloe Moretz (playing Abby, here) is well enough known now that it’s hard to imagine her in the role from the original. But, she does a spectacular job – which is what I expected. Whether she’s being sweet and enigmatic, in her flirtatious scenes with Owen; or her horrific transformations into, well, her not as happy self, she’s amazing.

The rest of the cast is also pretty great, from regular steady performers like Elias Koteas and Richard Jenkins. To the kids that play Owen’s tormentors. Namely, the main bully, played by Dylan Minnette, who is appropriately foppish and evil. An interesting decision in the case of Owen’s mother (played by Cara Buono) is that we never actually see her face. We see a lot more of the wine glass she’s continually drinking from than her. Another interesting choice in the cinematography of the movie is how it plays with close-ups and focus. A lot of the movie is played over the shoulder of the character in the foreground, with the background out of focus. I mean a lot. It’s interesting and helps keep us with the characters.

Finally, and what you’ve all been waiting for, the horror bits. I call this movie a cross between E.T. and THE EXORCIST, which I think is apt – see my previous comments about the score and Amblin-ness. With a lot more of EXORCIST, than you’d expect. There’s quite a bit more detail put into Abby’s “alter-ego”, we’ll call it; from white contacts and weird, deranged teeth. Not fangs, from what I could tell, but it’s more like they sink into her gums and get all crooked. While it’s weird, it’s very discomforting. Also – and here’s one of the two more instances where I’ve got to compare this to the original – there’s the effects involved on when “monster Abby”, as we’ll now call her; attacks people. In the original, it was blurred and fast. With whatever digital effects mixed very well. (Or at least having engaged the viewer enough to not mind any short-comings.) Here, the effects seem almost HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE in quality. She’s clearly digital, flipping all around and it’s just jarring. That said the horror elements are stupendous. Richard Jenkins’ character has two scenes in particular that are drenched with tension and play amazingly well. Also, much like in David Fincher’s ZODIAC; his stalking habits play perfectly into the timeframe in which the movie’s set. People aren’t expecting to be attacked, let alone in their own private spaces – like in their cars. Unlike today, where we grab the shotgun if someone knocks on our door too loud. Those scenes are amazing, and the framing of just about any scene from inside a vehicle, just puts you on edge.

Okay, finally for real now, and the part where I have to really take the movie to task. There are moments in the original movie – which have been oft-discussed (or not, as would be proper) – that would have really knocked audiences on their asses if they’d made the American remake. Granted, perhaps that particular plot point doesn’t fit history in the US as it did in Europe. (?) But, what missing this specific aspect did, was leave the remaining hints only with the most obvious of meanings. And of course, what I’m walking gently around are the CGI cats. (kidding.) But, seriously, that’s my major beef with the movie. It takes two of the major subplots from the original movie and does away with the subtext – in one, the meaning is a play on words and in the other a building of the “us versus them/good versus evil” ideology (which is still also prevalent in the remake, only in the simplest of forms)  and the subplots that it doesn’t do away with, it down right spells out for us. Like the role of the caretaker of Abby – Eli in the original. Granted, the interpretation here, is what I suspected in the original. But I liked NOT being told.

Overall though, I really did like the movie. A lot. It feels similar in tone (and in casting, heh) as THE ROAD. In that it’s a close adaptation, adds some proper tension and fright, but leaves out some of the smaller details that made the original (the movie, and possibly the novel which I still haven’t read – for LET ME IN; and just the novel, for THE ROAD.) The movie seeps dread, tension and pent up aggression. It’s helped tremendously by the already mentioned score and cinematography. Not to dismiss the perfect cues of 1980’s pop-music (though, mysteriously no Michael Jackson), and at least one moment of brilliant wardrobe selection.

It’s more than adequate for viewing over the upcoming Halloween season (will it still even be around by then?), and for general audiences that wouldn’t dare watch a beautiful, Swedish film about the exact same topic.

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  1. I lost it when you referenced Harry Potter to liken their digital effects. Good stuff. You got my interest piqued for a film I wasn’t much wanting, much to my chargin. (Can’t be the original).

  2. Awesome review! I haven’t seen either version but am totally stoked to see LET ME IN. I think it’s a great time to watch a scary movie… just before Halloween!!

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