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