Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Let Me In (2010)

With Let Me In, writer/director Matt Reeves has created a modern horror classic… or rather, he has taken a modern horror classic in the foreign market and domesticated it, with honor, respect and ingenuity. Working from the 2008 Let the Right One In foundation established by novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist and director Tomas Alfredson, Reeves’ film is on the forefront of what could be (with the Dragon Tattoo remakes hot on its heels) a discouraging new trend in Hollywood cinema – the appropriation of still breathing foreign films, recreated for American audiences. Except it is not discouraging. It is, in fact, refreshing, in its own bloody and unsettling way.

The tale of a bullied pre-teen boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) befriended by a forever-teen vampire girl (Chloe Moretz), Reeves’ film isn’t really a remake, or a reimagining, or whatever clever spin you want to put on re-creation. It is simply a retelling, with differing stylistic choices. With so many A-Teams and Halloweens out there, it’s easy to forget that for centuries, cinemas predecessors of the stage retold their stories ad nauseum. It was in fact the norm, a continuation of the writer’s work. And that is precisely what we get here.

Sure there are changes. The cast is different (but still very strong), the setting, the era. But the atmosphere, the themes (of innocence of lost, of violence begets violence, et all), the story hold true. “Well what’s the point then?” you might ask.

For starters, the Americanization of the film opens the story up to a broader spectrum of audiences that, for better or for worse, simply would not see the original film (or read the original novel… let us not forget, Let the Right One In is an adaptation in its own right). But that’s really just the tip of the excuse-berg. The real benefit of this production is in those subtle changes (the intense way the vampire girl’s “caretaker” stocks his pray, for example), and in the craft with which Reeves executes his retelling.

Let Me In does not disrespect its predecessor, or dumb it down as the feared Hollywood remake tends to do (perhaps it helps that this is a largely independent production). Instead it is an incredibly smart and stylish film. Reeves experimented with perspective in his last film, the enjoyable but somewhat flaky Cloverfield (2008). He simplifies but maintains that experimentation here, building his world from the ground up, from the short-stack view of his 12-year-old hero and his controversial heroine. Adults and parental figures are either absent or discourageable. The boy’s mother is a well-meaning drunk, disconnected from her son and therefore never worthy of focus. His father is a voice on the phone. The town detective is a disheveled bumbler who sees a burn victim and assumes satanic cult. The neighbors are strange. The teachers are useless.

But the vampire is a friend. The vampire connects. So when the vampire does horrible things… well, they’re still horrible, but we’re affected more by the horror, than by affiliation with the victims.

But make no mistake, the key word is horror. Vampirism is a disease in Let Me In, an ugly, undeniable danger. This is the antidote to the vampires that sparkle in daylight or woo with southern charms. Little Chloe Moretz would tare those suckers apart (pun intended). And yet… the romantic aspect of Let Me In is equally undeniable, and feels more natural, more real than any of its mopey contemporaries. And thus Reeves' film is thrilling, chilling, unnerving… and yes, sweet.

Moretz and Smit-Mcphee give us something to cheer for, and Dylan Minnette makes for some excellent intimidation as the boy’s tormentor. In fact, there are strong performances throughout, from Elias Koteas as the policeman to Richard Jenkins as Moretz’s guardian. But the most impactful player is Reeves. His suspense is excellent, his sentiment on point. And his style authentic.

For as much as this is an honest retelling of Let the Right One In, it is the work of a man influenced by a separate era of cinema horror, by classics like Carrie (1976) and the original Halloween (1978). Those films are in its spirit, its Swedish predecessor in its heart, and classic scare fare in its DNA.

Let Me In does not disappoint.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Great review. I too was surprised and impressed with what Reeves did with this and why and how, etc. I had enormous respect for the original and have equal respect for this film. "Remake" is such a scary and often negative word. This is one of the few cases in which it was done right and wonderful.


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