Thursday, September 30, 2010

Movie Review: Let Me In

Let Me In ****
Directed by:
Matt Reeves.
Written By: Matt Reeves based on the screenplay and novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist.
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee (Owen), Chloe Grace Moretz (Abby), Richard Jenkins (The Father), Cara Buono (Owen's Mother), Elias Koteas (The Policeman), Sasha Barrese (Virginia), Dylan Kenin (Larry), Chris Browning (Jack), Ritchie Coster (Mr. Zoric).

It’s become a cliché now to say that Hollywood has run out of ideas – but just because it’s a cliché, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Any movie that is made in another country that finds any sort of international success is immediately targeted for an American remake – for obvious reasons. Audiences clearly loved the film, but Hollywood wants to connect with that ever important demographic of people who won’t watch any movie with subtitles. Most of the time the American remakes fail miserably, because someone in Hollywood decides that they can improve upon the original – by taking out whatever made the film special in the first place, and filling the gaps with clichés.

Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In is one of the best vampire movies I have ever seen. It was hugely popular in his native Sweden, and the film found genuine art house success when it was released in North America back in 2008, so it was only a matter of time before someone remade the film in English. I, like many, was dreading the eventual remake, thinking that the filmmakers would take what was an intelligent, genuinely scary and unsettling movie, and dumb it down for the masses. But about fifteen minutes into Matt Reeves Let Me In, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Reeves didn’t screw it up. He uses the original film as his blueprint, but not as his bible. He does make some changes, but not many, and none of them detract from the simple power, and genuine creepiness of this movie. In short, what was the best horror film of 2008 has been remade into the best horror film of 2010.

The movie has been moved to New Mexico, in the early 1980s. Reeves keeps the snow covered setting of the original film, and does a great job with casting. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Owen, a kid who is small for his age, and is the constant target for bullies at his school. He has no real friends, his parents have recently divorced, and he stays with his mother – although he prefers to spend long hours by himself in the courtyard outside their dilapidated apartment building. One day, he observes his new neighbors moving in. It appears to be a father (Richard Jenkins) and his daughter (Chloe Grace Mortez), who is around Owen’s age. Owen thinks it is weird that when he first sees the girl, she isn’t wearing any shoes, even though it is the middle of winter. When he finally meets the girl, who says her name is Abby, but they cannot be friends, he thinks she is even weirder. But gradually, these two mixed up, unpopular kids who do not fit in with anyone else, fit together and do become best friends.

But then strange things begin happening. People are winding up dead, either drained of their blood, or looking like they were attacked by wild animals – where no wild animals should be. Add to this Abby’s continual weird behavior – like the fact she never goes to school, and confuses Owen by telling him that she isn’t a girl, Owen starts to expect what we already know – that Abby is not a normal girl, but a vampire.

Just like in the previous film, Let Me In is more about mood, atmosphere and character than it is about genuine scares. That isn’t to stay that movie doesn’t have some wonderfully creepy, scary moments, just that there is much more to the film than just those moments. Reeves, who previous film Cloverfield did not suggest he had this level of talent, does a remarkable job in building the suspense in the movie, allowing the story to unfold naturally, and getting terrific performances from his actors. Smit-McPhee, sporting perhaps the worst haircut in the movies since Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men, makes a convincing boy being bullied – a shy kid who needs to come out of his shell. There is something about this kid that you cannot turn away from – the immense hurt and pain in his eyes for one, but also his dogged persistence – every day he gets up miserable, and plows through his life. Mortez is even better as Abby – who instead of making the character into an old soul, much like the original did, turns her into a more naïve character, completely unsuited for the outside world. If she was whip smart and capable of handling her one liners with great comic appeal in Kick Ass, she does the opposite here – it is a largely quiet performance, one where the best moments are the ones where she says nothing. And Richard Jenkins is terrific as her “Father”, who seems almost like a grown up version of Owen – painfully shy, unable to communicate his feelings or anything else for that matter, but in love with Abby. The film goes even a little farther with his character than the original did – suggesting some warped sexual feelings for her, that Jenkins masterfully conveys when he looks at Mortez.

The slow burn works for this movie, just like it worked for the last one. By the time we have reached the climax (which is perhaps the only moment in the film which is essentially a shot for shot remake of the original, because, well, it truly would have been impossible to improve on perfection) the movie has us firmly in its grasp and won’t let go. This truly is one of the best horror films of the year.

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