REVIEWED: LET ME IN (LFF – DAY 2)

Let Me In

Let Me In is better than it has any right to be.

Few who have seen the Swedish modern vampire classic Let the Right One In ever yearned for a remake, and in the same regard, most of us expected it to be a train wreck. However, with the enormous level of talent on hand – Cloverfield director Matt Reeves, principal actors Chloe Moretz and Kodi Smit-McPhee, supporting players Elias Koteas and Richard Jenkins, and Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino – this is the rare horror remake that works. For anyone who can be bothered to read subtitles, it is essentially a pointless endeavour, but it has a strident regard for what made the original so enthralling, and though the overall product isn’t any better than Let the Right One In, it throws the gauntlet down in the areas of scoring, acting and direction.

The plot is exactly the same as the original; Owen (McPhee) is a 12-year-old boy living in New Mexico, having seemingly no friends at school and being forced to suffer the wrath of a rowdy group of bullies, while neither his parents nor the school offer up much in terms of care or help. However, his life changes forever when 12-year-old girl Abby (Moretz) moves onto his apartment block with her guardian (Jenkins), and teaches him to stand up for himself. However, all is not as it seems; Abby is in fact a vampire, and with her companionship comes a fierce blood-lust which her guardian goes to great pains to sate, even killing innocent joggers. However, with a botched killing comes the attention of the local authorities, headed up by a driven Detective (Koteas).

Though Reeves rather pointlessly opens his film with a scene from the middle of the story (for it adds little extra context and is pure gimmickry), this is a shockingly efficient retelling of the Swedish film, regurgitating the atmospheric minimalism of the original, while also offering a few story variations that slot snugly into the original mythos. Just like LTROI, the dialogue is economically sparse, choosing instead to build suspense through subtlety, while the nuanced performances do most of the work, through Smit-McPhee’s awkward body motions and Moretz’s tragically piercing eyes.

Given that Reeves is a director damned if he does and doesn’t change things, he does a remarkable job here in pleasing both camps. For better or for worse – I say neither – it is a touch less retrained in the gore department, for while the original film’s throat-slit scene displayed a small trickle of crimson, here Reeves opts for a voluminous gloop of Kool Aid-like viscera. More agreeable are Reeves’ small but significant changes to character and circumstance; Jenkins’ caretaker character is altogether sadder and more sympathetic, with the subsersive glimpses gone, and an interesting hint of how he met Abby offered through a dusty set of photo booth pictures. Abby, meanwhile, is more predatory this time, more keen to go it alone and exploit her cute features to trick well-to-do passers-by who wish to help her. Again, the changes are negligible in terms of bettering or worsening the original story, but Reeves’ literary engagement with the material, keen not to travel the well-trodden path, is nothing if not admirable.

Reeves – with huge help from Michael Giacchino’s terrifying score – also proves himself apt at crafting suspense. A sequence in which Abby’s caretaker waits in the car back-seat of one of Abby’s potential meals, ready to pounce, is nerve-wrackingly tense and in turn darkly comic. The scene’s end sees the film’s most exhilarating moment and Reeves’ best directorial flourish; a violent car crash captured from the perspective of the back-seat. Reeves’ clever direction – blocking out Owen’s parents’ faces at each turn to accentuate his isolation, and a darkly comic match-cut from a burning woman to an overcookied pie – cements him as no slouch. Also rather admirably, he roots the film within a greater culturally relatable framework for American audiences, splicing in (rather comically) the Blue Oyster Cult’s seminal 80s tune “Burnin’ for You”.

For the open-minded viewer, there is little to have against this remake (other than that it need exist at all), though one wonders why Reeves bothered to use CGI during Abby’s attack scenes. Visual effects are typically used sparingly throughout, though they feel excessive during these moments, giving Abby an uncanny, jerky look which, even if intentional, gives the impression of ropey effects work. Also disappointing though not unexpected is the removal of the original film’s most daringly subversive moment (those who have seen LTROI will know exactly what it is), yet it was a fleeting, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, and it is unlikely that a studio would have even hired Reeves had he insisted upon keeping it.

That graphic final attack scene is also not quite as well done as in the original (there is more cutting away when the camera should linger), but Reeves still packs a powerful visceral impact, and it should be a pleasant shock to the system for those who have yet to be blessed with the original. For one measure, it is not as forgiving as the original; unlike Eli, Abby leaves no survivors.

In short, hang up your prejudices and preconceptions and this is a strikingly good looking, incredibly effective reworking that has a few additions of its own while sticking to what made the original so great; it is neither pointlessly true like Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho, nor is it an alienating deviation from what we know. In a perfect world, audiences wouldn’t be so lazy and just read subtitles, but if you’re going to remake a film – horror or otherwise – this is how you do it, for it stands tall with Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead as one of the few good ones in recent memory.

 

Let Me In premiers at the London Film Festival tonight, with additional screenings on Friday October 15th and Saturday October 16th, before going on wide release on November 5th.
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