When a critically acclaimed
foreign film gets remade for American audiences, the result is usually a
sub-par glossy imitation lacking in substance. So when the announcement came
that the 2008 Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In, which has already
become somewhat of a cult classic, was to be remade sans subtitles, it was
understandably met with dismay from fans. Yet, in sticking closely to the
template set by original director Tomas Alfredson, new director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield)
delivers an equally tense and atmospheric horror that could well win the
argument in favour of remakes.
It does, however, spark an
entirely new debate. In copying the original film so closely, for the most part
seemingly shot-for-shot, can Let Me In be judged on its own merits? It does,
after all, seem unfair to praise a film that is essentially just a carbon copy
of a worthy primer. But Let Me In is, on the face of things, still a
well-paced meditation on vampirism –
a subject that has been covered exhaustively over recent years – and contains
some truly terrifying moments to keep hardcore horror fans entertained.
Set in 1982, the story
follows Owen (Smit-McPhee), a social outcast who is viciously bullied at school
as he befriends Abby (Moretz), a mysterious 12-year-old who moves in next door
to him. In his loneliness, Owen forms a profound bond with his new
neighbour, but notices that Abby is like no one he has ever met before. As a string of grisly murders grips his wintry New
Mexico town, Owen has to confront the reality that this seemingly innocent girl
is actually a savage vampire.
The film’s desolate Los
Alamos landscape doubles for the original’s snowy Stockholm suburb allowing for
Reeves to recreate the bleak and barren surroundings that serve to emphasise Owen’s
own feelings of isolation. It makes for a stark setting that seems filled
with both hopelessness and tenderness at the same time, perfectly characterising the juxtaposition between
the purity and monstrosity present in both vampire Abby and the angry, bullied
Owen. This, coupled with Michael Giacchino’s hauntingly beautiful score, sets
the emotional tone of the movie, emphasising implications of loneliness, dread
Unfortunately, the evocative
and atmospheric quality of the film is let down by a few unnecessary shots of
CGI. In an effort to make Abby appear more fiendish, computer-generated effects
take over in some scenes where she is in full ‘vampire attack’ mode, but the
transition is just awkward and clunky enough to make her seem less supernatural
and more just ‘unnatural’. Each
time, the resulting shot is one that takes the viewer outside of the film’s simplicity
and minimalism and plunges it into generic shock horror when it would have been
far better to stick with the maturity and tension already in abundance.
That said, Let Me In still
manages to scare and thrill in many other ways. Between scenes that portray the
eerie physicality of being a vampire, such as the bloody outbreak that ensues
when Abby shows Owen what happens when she walks into a room uninvited, to brilliantly
chaotic moments, such as the fixed camera shot from inside a car as it crashes
and rolls down a hill. As well as this, make up and effects are utilised expertly
to produce utterly frightening and grotesque visions of both vampire and her victims, including one memorably stomach-churning image of
Abby’s apparent ‘father’ (Jenkins) with severe acid burns to the face.
Overall then, Let Me In
manages to tread the line carefully between affection and horror, softness and
gore, to become a film that is worthy of much acclaim, even if it has not
fully achieved this in its own right.
Fans of the original will decry this remake as unnecessary, but then they would
surely be up in arms if it was anything less than completely faithful to the
original. On the other hand, newcomers to the story are in for a genuine treat.