Friday, March 4, 2011

Let Me In

Directed by Matt Reeves.
2010. Rated R, 116 minutes.
Chloë Grace Moretz
Kodi Smit-McPhee
Richard Jenkins
Cara Buono
Elias Koteas
Sasha Barrese
Dylan Kenin
Richie Coster
Dylan Minnette

Owen (Smit-McPhee) is twelve years old and has no friends. Even worse, he’s the class punching bag. Things are so bad, he hangs out alone at night, in the courtyard of his apartment complex and fantasizes about getting revenge. If that weren’t enough, he lives with his mom who’s in the process of divorcing his dad and is an emotional wreck. One night, he notices a girl his age moving into the apartment next door to his with her father. Eventually, we find out her name is Abby (Moretz). As it turns out, she’s also a loner who seeks solitude in the courtyard most nights. Even though, it’s the dead of winter she doesn’t wear shoes. Owen notices this and also finds out rather quickly that she leads some sort of tortured existence, as well. The two seemingly kindred spirits strike up a friendship. However, Owen doesn’t realize something we already know. Abby is a vampire.

To remain as conspicuous as possible, Abby’s “father” (Jenkins) supplies her with blood by killing random people, draining the blood from them and carrying it back to her. Whenever he fails at this task, or hunger overwhelms her, she has to hunt for her own meals. Let’s just say her table manners are less than desirable.

The movie’s pace is deliberately slow but it doesn’t drag. It draws us in through the growing relationship between Owen and Abby. It also never forgets that there are murders being committed so the police are working feverishly to find out who’s responsible. All along, we wonder what will happen when things get figured out? What will happen when Owen comes to understand what Abby really is? What happens when the police figure it out?

Of course, the vampire craze of the last few years can be traced back to the Twilight series. Everything in that critic-proof juggernaut is dolled up to appeal to young girls and teach them about the virtues of abstinence. While that’s a fine message it’s done in a manner that makes the idea of vampires even less tangible than it already is. It’s not just fantasy. It’s impossibly sanitized so that any thoughts deemed to be impure are like the greatest evils know to mankind. On the other hand, any good things are romanticized to the nth degree. In short, the Twilight films alternately panders to and preaches to its audience on a continuous basis.

In Let Me In, the characters are not in some totally foreign dimension where everything is glossy and nice where vampires can go out in the daytime and wean themselves from human blood. Instead, the vampire is dropped into our reality. This offers insight into what it might be like if there really were such a creature in our midst. To understand the difference between this world and the Twilight world think about the Batman movies. Specifically, think of how Gotham City is portrayed in the recent Christopher Nolan movies and in the franchise-killing Joel Schumacher flicks. LMI would be the Nolan films, not quite fully realistic but enough to seem a lot more plausible.

For those of us lucky enough to have seen it, there is yet another elephant in the room. That one is the Swedish original, less than two years old when its American remake hit theaters. Technically, like its predecessor, LMI claims to be based on the novel Let the Right One In. The Swedish film keeps the full title while this one truncates it. Otherwise, there’s not enough of a difference for me to say it isn’t a remake. There are some changes here and there. Most notably, there is one glaring omission and one event moved to the beginning of the film. The omission is the now infamous crotch shot of our vampire. The event involves the father and is key to the movie so I won’t spoil that.

The fact that this is largely the same movie is not a knock on the American flick. It wisely follows the template already created. Aside from the omission I mentioned, it doesn’t water things down, at all. Unlike most remakes, the additions don’t become subtractions. There are no overly big showy moments for no reason other than injecting some perceived excitement. To its credit, the one recognizably American thing it did actually works. It adds a little more gore. However, it does so for good reason and not at the cost of character development as is often the case. It is rare that a remake can stand up to the original, particularly when the remake is American and the original is not. This one does. What I’m going to say next may seem even stranger than that. When the subtitleophobes tell you this one is better, ignore that they’re probably basing their opinion solely on the fact it’s in English. They might actually be right, this time.

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