Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Let Me In / ***½ (R)

Owen: Kodi Smit-McPhee
Abby: Chloe Moretz
The Father: Richard Jenkins
The Policeman: Elias Koteas
Kenny: Dylan Minnette

Overture Films presents a film written and directed by Matt Reeves. Based on the screenplay and novel “Låt den rätte koma in” by John Ajvide Lindqvist. Running time: 115 min. Rated R (for strong bloody horror violence, language and a brief sexual situation).

I have called the Swedish film “Let the Right One In” the greatest vampire movie ever made. I erroneously omitted it from my list of the top 25 films of the past decade earlier this year. It is one of those pictures that I continually fail to do justice to when trying to describe its greatness in words. Now, comes the American remake, more simply titled “Let Me In”. Fortunately, the title is the only major element of the movie that is simplified for American audiences.

Can I fairly evaluate a film that is a remake of another film I hold in such high regard? I think so. It helps that this new version is made so well. It isn’t as perfect as the original; but it’s smarter, craftier, and more effective than nearly every other American horror movie out there. I read that director Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”) decided to direct it himself when his production company gained the remake rights because he didn’t trust anyone else to respect the material. I’m glad he felt that way, because he does understand the material. He respects it, and although he highlights some details of the story that might be more appealing to American audiences, he doesn’t change it much.

One big structure change to the story comes right at the beginning of the movie. We’re brought into the story in the middle, following an ambulance carrying a man who has burned his own face off with acid after being discovered trying to abduct and possibly murder a teenager. This beginning is jarring compared to the quiet start of the original, but it’s effective in drawing in an audience that expects to be disoriented and horrified.

Then we jump back two weeks and meet the isolated and fragile twelve-year-old boy, Owen, who imagines himself standing up to the bullies who terrorize him at school. As with the original, his introduction is more disturbing than you’d expect for the hero of a movie. He notices the girl, Abby, about his age and a man, assumed to be her father, moving in to the next-door apartment. She walks through the snow-covered courtyard in her bare feet. The next night she appears suddenly in the courtyard where he is pretending to confront his school assailants with a knife and tells him they cannot be friends. Thus begins one of the most gentle and loving relationships you’ll ever see in a vampire movie. Later, she reveals that she’s been twelve for a very long time. Move over Bella and Edward, this mortal to immortal coupling involves children with greater problems than being seen with the wrong crowd.

Another difference between the two versions involves the victims of the twelve-year-old vampire girl. The Swedish version identified with and sympathized quite a bit with her victims. Instead of focusing on Abby’s victims, Reeves invents the character of the policeman, who eventually connects the bungled acts of a serial killer with the savage attacks made by Abby. The killer is Abby’s supposed father, played magnificently by veteran character actor Richard Jenkins (“The Visitor”). This movie spends much time on the murders he performs for her, so she can have blood without exposing herself. The policeman is equally well cast, with Elias Koteas (“Shutter Island”) as the thoughtful detective.

Reeve’s triumph as director and writer of this adaptation is the way he includes these new elements, but never loses sight of the story’s primary focus, the relationship between a boy, damaged by real-life fears, and a girl, stuck in her early adolescence by a horrific mythology. I suppose damaged people are drawn together, and these two souls are destined for each other in a way not as romantic as it sounds. Kodi Smit-Mcphee (“The Road”) is perfect as the timid and yearning Owen. Although some have complained that Chloe Moritz is too typically pretty for the oddity that is Abby, she brings fragility to her monster that is never even hinted at in her best-known role as Hit Girl in “Kick Ass”.

I think the choice to us CGI to enhance the speed of Abby’s attacks on her victims is a mistake, however. Reeves creates a very gritty reality in his wintery New Mexico setting that carries the notion that if vampires were real, this is how they might actually exist. But when we see Abby turn into an abnormal blur while attacking her victims, it removes us from the reality he’s established. When CGI is used to show the fates of Owen’s bullies, it’s more effective because it’s used sparingly.

Despite any complaints about changes made between the original movie and this remake, “Let Me In” is a cold, lonely and compelling tale, told well and with great effect. It retains all of the original’s questions about adolescence and how awkwardly children try to fit into a grown up world. It isn’t as beautiful as “Let the Right One In”, but that brings to light more of the story’s horror. I wonder if the original hadn’t existed, would I like this one even more? Probably so, but if this is what it takes to get more people to see this wonderful horror tale, it’s worth what little is lost in translation. This is a vampire movie you want to see.

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