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Back in 2008, Sweden’s Tomas Alfredson directed one of the most atmospheric, creepy, intelligent horror films in recent memory.  Based on a novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In was an immediate critical hit.  As has become all too predictable whenever there’s a successful foreign horror film, some Hollywood studio decided to remake it.

So it goes with Let Me In, directed not by Alfredson, but by Matt Reeves, who helmed one of my all-time least favourite films, Cloverfield in the same year that Let the Right One ruled my annual Glorious Things Best Of list.  However, I was determined not to let my prior unhappy experience with Mr. Reeves’s work colour my judgment.  I left my sick bag at home and watched the hope that this remake with its proven material would go over much better than my last interaction with Mr. Reeves’ oeuvre.  The result is an underwhelming meh.

Using a snowbound 1983 New Mexico as a proxy for Sweden’s frosty climes, Reeves frames his film practically shot for shot after Alfredson’s original.  We view replicas of the same vast stretches of snowy forests under gunmetal grey skies, nondescript apartment complexes with sub-Ikea furniture inside and the single jungle gym in the middle of the courtyard, which is where we find Owen.  He is an undersized runt for whom puberty is yet a faraway notion.  Owen has no friends to speak of and isn’t much noticed by his divorcing parents.  The prospect of a new neighbour around his own age holds tentative promise.  He only briefly notes that the underdressed girl’s bare feet don’t seem to turn blue from the deep snow covering the ground, nor does the fact that he never seems to see her in school or anywhere else during the day really register.  Neither does it occur to him that since the young lady and her father moved in next door, strange things have been happening all over town.  The advent of this new friend and first crush blocks out the thought of everything else except perhaps the bullies who torment Owen every day at school, but with Abby’s encouragement Owen finds the nerve to employ a little payback of his own.

There doesn’t seem to be a point to remaking what was already an excellent film.  Here Let Me In doesn’t suffer as much from being bad, as it brings nothing new to the table.  It’s such a note for note rendition that not even its studio is referring to it under that pompous “reimagining” label.  Perhaps the thought is that the majority of moviegoers might have missed Let the Right One In, having been a foreign import with the subtitles that America dreads.  If so, this release which is basically a carbon copy of its superior continental sire is pretty cynical and doesn’t say much for the filmmakers behind it. 

If anything, I’m surprised by the lack of polish this Hollywood rendering is guilty of.  What stands out are the exceedingly cheesy special effects where Abby’s night hungers come into play.  She’s wearing luminescent sclera that might have been scary in 1983 and looks like someone dumped her face in oatmeal.  Her attacks, meant to resemble the Tasmanian Devil, I suppose, are awful; jumpy and poorly animated to the point of taking us out of the story to marvel at how goofy it looks.  This is surprising when one considers the visual effects muscle behind the unfortunate Cloverfield. 

The other cynical proposition is the exclusion of the one of the original film’s most memorable moments; a scene which clarifies the little vamp’s response to her friend’s request to make her his girlfriend.  That quick shot was an all-in-one exposition of the vampire’s history as well as evidence of the love between the two friends knowing no bounds.  In Let Me In, we hear the question and receive only a vague spoken answer that never means anything and it feels like an easy cop-out.  What’s worse is away from any comparison to the original, Let Me In is never actually scary or even mildly disturbing.  The frights are long telegraphed and seriously compromised due to the aforementioned weak special effects and there’s no sense of impending danger to Abby’s predicament.  It all just rolls along till the end, without making a ripple.

On the plus side, we have the wonderful Chloë Grace Moretz, who continues the streak of great performances she began in (500) Days of Summer and most recently topped earlier this year with a bravura turn at Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass.  As Abby, a convincingly androgynous Moretz gets the heart of the character, a creature older than even she knows, too afraid to get close to another soul for her attachments end up victimizing the ones she loves.  She matches Owen’s need for a friend perfectly and her shift from child of the same age and fancies as young Owen to imparting to him the wisdom she’s acquired over centuries is believable.  Elias Koteas is almost unrecognisable in Inspector Willoughby walrus mustache and union-issue frames as the officer trying to find this new serial killer come to town.  He’s not given much to do except knock on doors, but it’s good to see Koteas, star of 1995’s far more interesting creepfest The Prophecy in anything. 

Director Reeves does skillfully capture the early-1980’s miscellanea nicely; Owen’s huge padded bubble down jacket, the film’s Culture Club-heavy soundtrack and the two kids initial bond over Rubik’s cube and the Now and Later commercial jingle.  Kodi Smit-McPhee plays our wimpy kid, Owen, and his goldfish-wide eyes and permanently gaping lips evince the state of constant bewilderment and fright that the pre-teen years signify to many.  Like Koteas, there really isn’t much for Smit-McPhee to do despite having the featured role, but he is very sweet in moments like Abby’s visit to his flat, turning up some Greg Khin to set the mood, bopping his head like a rhythm-deprived pigeon.  Richard Jenkins makes a notable turn as Abby’s Renfield, a tired old man with no discernable super powers who serves the little vamp faithfully, committing horrible and heinous crimes to keep her safe.  Moretz and Jenkins’ skillful performances can’t lift the film from being what it is; a pale and pointless imitation of a superior movie.

Miles better than his previous creation, Cloverfield, director Reeves shows he can actually hold a camera steady long enough to create some interesting moods and scenarios.  Too bad someone did it first and far better than in Let Me In.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Oct. 1st, 2010

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Overture Films)

 

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