A Beautiful Love Story
I don’t want this review to be a comparative piece, nor one that questions the merit of this film given that it is a remake of the Swedish film made just two years ago. Although one cannot dismiss the impact this factor will have on your viewing experience, either from an ethical point of view or simply as a means of entertainment.
Speaking as someone who saw and immensely enjoyed 2008’s Let The Right One In, a big part of me objects to this remake; it feels like a product purely made to make money and pander to people who can’t be bothered to read subtitles. Also, the fact that I saw the other version just two years ago, and this version stays very true to that, meant I was pre-empting the events, like a re-run of a TV show I had watched last season.
However, all this said, I found this new version extremely enjoyable, superior to its original in many respects. This is not surprising, given the strength of the original subject material, a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist. If you’re looking for a justification for remaking a film, look at it this way – it’s the latest draft, a slight improvement on the draft beforehand. And to the director’s credit, this is exactly what Let Me In is: a faithful retelling of the original material, with some minor tweaks to make it more cinematic, which is after all, what any decent director should attempt to achieve.
Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Owen, a lonely 13-year old who is bullied at school and neglected by his mother who is in the middle of a bitter divorce with his absent father. His life takes a turn for the better when a mysterious father and daughter (or what appears to be) move into his apartment complex. Kodi quickly strikes up a friendship with the daughter, Abby (Chloe Mortez) and it’s not long before he is besotted with her. But Abby is quick to turn away his advances, often becoming distant and behaving strangely. The building of their relationship coincides with a number of the tenants disappearing, only for their bodies soon to be discovered, mutilated and drained of their blood.
Could the new arrivals, the sweet Abby and her frail father (Richard Jenkins) be linked to these murders? Of course they are.
When Jenkins is killed, Abby is forced to start killing for herself; the violence and brutality intensifies, as does her relationship with Owen, who upon discovering that Abby is a vampire – for all intents and purposes – accepts her, and loves her even more for it. But with a detective sniffing around the scene it’s not long before Owen is faced with a life changing decision: run away and start a new life with Abby, or let her go before she is caught by the police.
The film is as tight and taught as they come. The story is plotted with meticulous attention to pacing with moments of action, violence, comedy and drama meticulously woven around characters we can empathise with who undergo growth and are forced to make huge, life changing decisions.
Kodi Smit-McPhee somehow manages to better the performance he gave in The Road, with this portrayal of a lonely, neglected and vulnerable young man, desperate for attention and love. There’s a wonderful scene when he calls his father for advice, of which he receives nothing but the promise he will spend time with him soon. He ends the phone call by telling his father he loves him, only to hear the line go dead with no reciprocation. He breaks out in tears. It’s heartbreaking.
But even his deftly subtle performance is blown away by Chloe Moretz, who seems to be without a kink in her armour. In Kick Ass she played the foul-mouthed, fearless Hit Girl; she was funny, witty, commanding and terrifying all at the same time. Here she is asked to play a very different character; as a blood thirty vampire-like creature she is conflicted with her need for blood and someone to help her maintain her cover, and desires of love and companionship she feels for Owen. Every look feels genuine, every line of dialogue pitch perfect. In Moretz we have the next great young thing, who seems as comfortable with comedy and drama as a young Tatum O’Neil. It’s a huge talent I desperately hope does not go off the rails like the Oscar wining O’Neil.
Matt Reeves shows why he is so highly regarded, bringing his concentration of character and adeptness with special effects and action sequences to a film that shares a lot more in common with his smash hit Cloverfield than one might think. There’s no jerky camera movements and no ten stories tall monster, but this film does contain a monster of sorts, some scenes of serious violence and gore, and like Cloverfield, has a love story at its very core.
And this is what Let Me In is really about; what makes it so wonderfully engaging, moving and ultimately satisfying is the fact it is a beautiful love story. While there is a pervading supernatural element to the piece, involving vampires, this is a film about young love, first love, and the profound effect it has on ones adolescence. There’s a wonderful scene where Owen and Abby go for a date at an arcade and Owen treats Abby to a packet of his favourite sweets. So eager to make him happy, Abby agrees to try some, even though she knows it will make her sick. It’s a lovely romantic gesture, but not the only one in a film that is filled with more romance than any rom com you will see. Perhaps the best romantic gesture of all comes in the thrillingly violent denouement that takes place in a swimming pool, which is without doubt one of the greatest scenes ever conceived.
If judged solely as an independent piece, then Let Me In is well worthy of the high praise that everyone from J.J. Abrams to Stephen King have been lauding it with. It is tense, shocking and thrilling, engaging, moving and doesn’t miss a beat. In an instant classic that transcends genres and hopefully, as well as being a hit in its own right, will attract people to the original and the book for a greater appreciation of the work.
‘Let Me In’ is released in the U.K. today. Make sure you check out our interview with director Matt Reeves and star Kodi Smit-McPhee.