By Noah Lee | October 1, 2010

Kicking off Fantastic Fest this year was “Let Me In,” a movie some call a remake but being based on the Swedish vampire novel “Let The Right One In” by John Ajvide Lindqvist, argument can be made otherwise. Appearing as guest stars for the showing were director Matt Reeves, composer Michael Giacchino and stars Elias Koteas, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Dylan Minette, and Jimmy Pinchak.

In what is the obvious Americanization of the original novel and Swedish film, Reeves chose to set the movie in 1983 Los Alamos, New Mexico, a remote and seemingly very cold part of the United States. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a frustrated 12-year old young man, bullied mercilessly by three of his schoolmates. His father is unavailable, the mother passes out nightly with help from the bottle, and his only joy is found in eating Now or Later candy and spying on his neighbors with a telescope. His is a life of loneliness and anger. Purchasing a pen knife from the town’s singular Pharmacy, Owen begins to spend his time in the snow covered courtyard stabbing trees, venting his anger. One evening, suspiciously late at night, a young barefoot girl and an older man move in next door. Fascinated by his new neighbor, Abby (Chloe Moretz), he begins an attempt at friendship with the mysterious girl who warns him that they cannot be friends. Meanwhile, the town’s detective is on the hunt for a murderer who has suddenly shown up, leaving a trail of blood-drained bodies behind him.

Having seen the original Swedish film, “Let the Right One In,” a film I love, it’s impossible to go into a new movie based on the same material without having it at the back of the mind. However, Matt Reeves has succeeded in presenting the story in a thoughtful, respectful manner, while still Americanizing the Swedish text. “Let Me In” is altogether familiar but yet so well made it’s hard not to really like it. Chloe Moretz, most recently known for her amazing role as Hit-Girl in “Kick-A*s” is solid as Abby, but lacked some of the subtleties that I felt her counterpart Lina Leandersson had in “Let The Right One In.” Still, Abby is a fascinating character that has an air of evil to her not previously seen. I was treated to a moving, subtle performance of Kodi Smit-Mcphee’s Owen, who had me relating to his bullying woes and awkward development of romance with his new neighbor. The bullying in “Let Me In” is much more harsh, so much so that when Owen first strikes back, edged on by Abby, the crowd was cheering him on. The film is dark and foreboding, punctuated at the right times by humor, and very much aided by Michael Giacchino’s haunting score, which is immeasurably beautiful. Unfortunately, the prolific Richard Jenkins, featured prominently on the posters, has very little screen time as Abby’s companion, but those moments are very good. Elias Koteas, the detective on the hunt for the killer, is excellent as always.

While “Let Me In” hits all the major points of a story I’ve seen before, it’s beautifully shot, well-acted, and plays out well. One especially amazing scene features a car crash that left me stunned and wondering how it was done. When asked during the Q&A about it Reeves refused to give up the secret, instead wanting to wait for more people to see the movie first. If any disappointment was to be had, it’s in comparison to the crash sequence, when we’re dealt stiff graphics during Abby’s attacks. They have impact, appearing very gruesome and much more bloody than their Swedish counterpart, but her movements are puppet-like, obviously CG-generated and I wish it had felt more organic. Overall the scenes of gore are absolutely upped, likely for the blood-thirsty Americans. I’m one of those myself, so I was happy to have it.

When I first heard of a remake of my beloved film, I was straight opposed to it. How could anyone top the subtle and romantic story we already had from Tomas Alfredson? They haven’t, but what we do get is as good of a remake as I feel could have been and one I feel no shame in recommending. I can guarantee newcomers to the story will feel the same empathy and enjoyment I had when seeing the Swedish film the first time. And if it gets someone to go visit the original, all the better. Lindqvist’s story is fantastic and I’m happy that it has yet to be marred.

Review originally published on September 24, 2010 as part of the 2010 Fantastic Fest coverage

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  1. Don R. Lewis says:

    I finally caught the film today and LOVED it. Completely agree with Noah’s review as well. It was almost as if Reeves revered the original *too* much and didn’t want to duplicate the scenes in the original which are so amazing (mainly, the pool scene). The CGI was kinda lame but I simply love the weird, out of focus shots and the way we never see Owen’s mom. Vert arty, mainstream flick that I will be thinking about till the DVD.

  2. eyeresist says:

    Thanks, Jason, for assuming that I accused the original film of being pretentious because I can’t cope with subtitles. When I say “pretentious”, that’s what I mean: the film makes stylistic gestures which announce “This is Art”, but the leaden pacing, the wooden acting, and the unhorrific horror scenes ultimately constitute failures of technique, rather than emblems of super-tasteful aloofness from mere “entertainment”.

  3. alainiala says:

    Saw this this afternoon and must say…I really really liked Let Me In. I think even a smidgen more than Let The Right One In (which I also liked very much). The duo of Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-Mcphee were phenomenal. I echo Noah’s criticism of the CGI Abby scenes… They looked low-rent compared to the rest of the film. But a very minor quibble as the rest of the film was beautifully done. And yes, the car crash scene was one of the most amazing I’ve ever seen. I look forward to owning this on blu-ray so I can revisit that scene and ponder how it may have been done. This movie has cemented my admiration for Chloe Moretz and I look forward to seeing more of her work. And likewise, I look forward to seeing more of Kodi Smit-Mcphee.

  4. Thanks jason! I will definitely buy the subtitled version of Alfredson’s film! I will also see the remake and try to give it a fair shake.

  5. Jason Sarles says:

    By the way, to “eyeresist”: You call the Swedish version “pretentious” but don’t explain what that means. Is it because it’s in Swedish? Well over 99.9% of the time people use that word to refer to film, it’s because they have some prejudice against non-English (and non-American) movies, rather than any actual reference to “pretention” which almost inevitably goes undefined and unexplained.

    So, please explain?

  6. Jason Sarles says:

    Actually the original Swedish version IS distributed in the USA in its original theatrical version with English subtitles. God forbid, seriously, watching an overdubbed version of this film (or any foreign film for that matter). DEFINITELY go to your video store and get the DVD, and go into the options and select the subtitled version. (I’ve read that the mistake with the DVD is that the default-play is overdubbed.)

  7. I noticed a complete difference when I watched the straight Swedish version, minus the horrid, dubbed-in English. I have no idea why the Alfredson crew didn’t distribute the Swedish version with English subtitles. Also, I’m pretty sure the vampire reacted woodenly on purpose, and since she was (in my opinion) part of the boy’s personality, that would also account for the slowness of his reactions. Keep in mind that not all vamp tales are like the glamorous, Vampire Diaries—a show I’m not too embarrassed to say, I love!

  8. eyeresist says:

    I seem to be one of the few who didn’t like the original film. I thought the style was overly pretentious, the child actors were wooden, and the horror consistently undermined to the detriment of the story’s emotion (unless the “cat attack” scene was SUPPOSED to be funny).
    But I thought there was a great idea there, and hearing the title of the remake gave me hope – it just seems more to the point, more willing to go for the gut. Given the talents involved, this is one remake I’m looking forward to.

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