Thursday, October 14, 2010

Let Me In

I must confess as a fan of the 2008 Swedish surprise, Let the Right One In, directed by Tomas Alfredson, I along with many of the stock film nerd community had my pitchfork in ready position coming into Matt Reeves' Americanized remake, Let Me In.  The question first off, was why?  Why remake a film so good, nervy and unsettling; a film that in it's opening prompted myself and others to proclaim it one the best vampire stories in years, right up there in the pantheon of smart, stylish works that transcend the trashy sub-genre-- for my taste I'll take Let the Right One In and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV show, not movie) over all the Anne Rice malarkey and Twilight nonsense any day.  So I must declare this admission as objectively was very difficult in watching Let Me In, which is a proficient entertainment but lacking the surprise or ingenuity of the original.  In fact, it's a carbon copy, as most of the this overly-cautious film is so close to the original, presumably to appease the small, but devoted cult, that I was left with a well-shot, decently acted, but ultimately very cold and unspectacular film.

I do, however, believe that Mr. Reeves is quite a talent, even if I've been left cold thus by his films.  He comes from the J.J. Abrams trust, and with it a clever filmmaking sensibility that so far hasn't exceeded much from that.  He also directed Cloverfield, which for it's hand-held jumbled-ness was more of a triumph of marketing than artistry, and along with Let Me In, is very good at establishing mood and tone; he just needs to find a more authentic place to channel his talents.  Remaking a marvelous film that virtually shot-for-shot, dialogue queue for queue doesn't quite work here.  Aside from a few peripheral character jettisons from the original and few characters names changed, Let Me In is the same film, just without the unique, unsettling freshness that was so revelatory in 2008.  It's akin to the Gus Van Sant shot-for-shot exercise with Psycho, in that it probably wouldn't be a bad film had one seen it first, but if that's not the case, why bother?

We tread the same story here-- the action moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico; it's still set in the 1980s, but Reeves makes that a bit more upfront (images of Reagan speeches are blasted across all around)-- first we meet Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee, from The Road), a bullied latch-key young boy who idles about snooping on neighbors and playing by his lonesome in his depressing, snowy courtyard.  Then we meet Abby, named Eli in the original, played by Chloe Moretz, a mysterious young girl who moves in late one night to Owen's apartment building, with her even more mysterious 'father,' played with the singular touch of the awesome Richard Jenkins, an actor capable of injecting light into the most horrific of films (the man single handily the mawkish Dear Job tolerable.)  As it turns out Abby is a vampire, as she subtly coos, "I'm twelve, but I've been twelve for a very long time," and a slow-building relationship develops between the two.  The delicacy of the story is so appealing in it's innocence and subtlety, that when the action and violence starts it feels all the more threatening, or at least that's how it felt watching the original.  The remake is sort of flow chart of that sensation.

On the same token, I can't totally dismiss Let Me In, even though I want to so badly.  Even if it's a truly disingenuous copy of a terrific film, there are admirable elements.  This one is the better acted film in truth (as I lose a piece of my soul for uttering such blasphemy), and the chemistry between Smit-McPhee and Moretz builds in such a sweet, natural capacity that one just wishes the movie surrounding them was the cold, dull hovel it is.  Moretz, especially flourishes quite well, and for the first time gives a nice, understated performance that balances her fussier turns in Kick-Ass and (500) Days of Summer; of course it probably helps that her character here is leaps and bounds better.  The aforementioned Jenkins is terrific as well.  Michael Giacchino's score is also very spooky and often very pretty, but that I was engulfed in the music more so than the story, time and time again, may not necessarily be a positive.

At this point in time the movie has already opened and tanked at the box office, so I suppose that's the best service to be done for a film that had no right to be made at all.  Still I hope the few newcomers who came along to Let Me In enjoyed it enough, or least more than I did to savor the profound and odd beauty of the original movie.  C+

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