Matt Reeves's Let Me In is a smart horror film that exploits a deep-seated fear in America: subtitle-phobia. The movie is a remake of the acclaimed 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In, a delicately creepy tale of adolescent blood-sucking and bonding that earned critical raves but only a modest $2-million in U.S. box-office revenue. Let Me In should earn at least 20 times that, just by being in English.
The new movie is not a sell-out so much as a culturally modified variation. Reeves, a savvy director (responsible for the ingenious shaky-cam horror romp Cloverfield) mildly amps up the dynamics of the original film without dumbing it down.
At times, he shows an almost plagiaristic devotion to the original film, with shot-by-shot scene recreations and the solemn pace and bruise-like palette. But he leaves enough fingerprints on the film to claim it as his own.
The setting has changed from a godless Swedish suburb to a God-fearing America in early 1980s Los Alamos, N.M. The dynamics have also changed, from muted to muted-with-explosive-interludes. Reeves shows his flair as an action director, particularly in a jarring point-of-view car crash that forms a centrepiece of the new film, part of a new flashback structure tied to a police investigation.
The movie begins as a frumpy-looking police detective (Elias Koteas) arrives at a hospital to deal with the case of a strangely injured car-accident victim, who the cop believes may be linked to a series of murders. Eventually, that search will lead him to a building complex on the edge of town, where a 12-year-old boy and girl live in adjacent apartments.
Owen (the elfin, androgynous Kodi Smit-McPhee) lives with his unbalanced, fundamentalist Christian mother, who's literally out of the picture (her face is either out-of-focus or obscured in every scene). Ronald Reagan is on the television, talking up his Star Wars defence plan and the threat of evil in the world, while David Bowie is warbling about dancing under the serious moonlight. Owen is a slightly creepy and lonely kid who spies on neighbours with his telescope, or stands in front of the mirror, acting out his revenge fantasies against school bullies.
One night, Owen witnesses a haggard-looking man (Richard Jenkins) and little girl (Chloe Moretz) arriving secretively at the apartment courtyard. Later, he hears the man shouting angrily through the apartment wall. Later still, Owen meets the girl, Abby, in the courtyard playground. She looks pale and malnourished, and though it's winter, she's not wearing shoes. Abby describes herself as "12, more or less" and tells him she can't be his friend, but they meet again on another night and eventually form a bond.
As we learn early in the film, what initially looks like a relationship of child abuse between Abby and her father turns out to be a parasitic tie between a self-loathing mortal man and an ageless vampire child.
When she drinks blood, she appears less gaunt and more attractive to Owen. The bond that grows between them tightens - co-dependent, tender and pre-sexual. Abby is Owen's saviour, his potential girlfriend and perhaps his life-long parasite.
The kids work beautifully together, often without a lot of words between them: Smit-McPhee (he played Viggo Mortensen's son in The Road) is suitably wide-eyed, in wonder or fear, while Moretz is an ongoing revelation: Is this moody waif really the same girl who played the precocious brat in (500) Days of Summer or the foul-mouthed action heroine Hit Girl in Kick-Ass?
Less satisfying are the moments when the film concedes to American horror conventions, especially the scuttling vampire effects, which pull us out of the haunted world of these lovely damaged creatures into a place that, while not of this world, feels entirely too familiar.
Let Me In
- Written and directed by Matt Reeves
- Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz
- Classification: 14A