Directed by Matt Reeves, 2010. Starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Grace Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas. 115 minutes.
Twelve-year-old Owen is having a bad time of things: he doesn’t get along much with his estranged parents, and he’s endlessly bullied at school. Things get a lot stranger when a vampire girl named Abby moves into the apartment next door…
Um, where have I read that before? Oh, yeah, that’s right. This is the English-remake of Let the Right One In. Why bother to remake such a highly-regarded film less than three years after its original release (and less than two years after it came to the attention of American audiences)? Because, of course, it’s a foreign film, the original dialogue’s not in English, and there’s a significant portion of the American film-going audience who won’t watch anything with subtitles. Plus, since LTROI’s initial American theatrical release, Twilight has evolved from a literary phenomenon to a pop culture mega-phenomenon, so you can sell Let Me In to the anti-Twilight crowd.
Let Me In is a good enough film. It’s certainly well-shot (director Matt Reeves, who also directed Cloverfield, has a great eye for composition: the murder at the train tracks is a particular joy) and well-acted (for those actors whose characters haven’t been reduced to nothing—see below). It pretty much stays true to the themes of the original. (To me, this is more important than slavishly replicating the original storyline. For a great example of how a film managed to more or less retain the original storyline but completely botch the themes, do a book-to-film comparison of Watchmen.)
There are some changes to the storyline, but they don’t for the most part detract from anything. Most notably, the setting has been changed from a suburb to a city (Los Alamos, New Mexico), and Let Me In’s equivalents of Jocke (here called Jack—rather amusingly, every time we see him he’s exercising), Lacke (Larry) and Virginia live in Owen’s apartment building instead of elsewhere; while Larry and Virginia live together, they don’t seem to have any connection to Jack beyond being neighbors; and all three—particularly Larry—have drastically reduced roles (as does Owen’s father). Lacke’s investigation subplot is taken up by an original character, a somewhat ineffectual-seeming police detective played by Elias Koteas. By compressing the geography, removing interpersonal relationships, and not allowing us to get to know the characters, the isolation and alienation is increased. (Think about it…Lacke may be a bit of a buffoon, but he feels genuine affection for Jocke, and he investigates the situation out of obsession, not obligation.)
Where Let Me In differs most significantly from LTROI, and where it is most flawed, is in the approach. Most comparisons of Let Me In with the original insist that the remake is not “dumbed down.” I’d have to disagree. LTROI left a lot of things unspoken, ambiguous. Let Me In, on the other hand, doesn’t ask the audience to figure stuff out on its own. Rather, it just comes right out and says everything.
Did you have trouble getting a handle on the setting of the original film? A title card helpfully informs the audience that Let Me In takes place in LOS ALAMOS, NEW MEXICO, in MARCH, 1983, and hammers the point home by showing us footage of Ronald Reagan making a speech, having Owen play Ms. Pac-Man at an arcade (where the cashier is dressed up as Boy George) and by constantly blasting the Great Hits of the Early ’80s at us (Culture Club, Blue Öyster Cult, the Greg Kihn Band, David Bowie). Irritated by Eli’s refusal to admit she’s a vampire? When Owen asks her about it, Abby doesn’t say “I’m just like you,” like Eli does; instead, she says “I need blood.” (Long pause.) “To live.” (Considering the “peeking” subplot has been removed entirely, this is understandable—except for the fact that the other “I’m not a girl” exchanges are left in, albeit altered somewhat.) Confused about Håkan’s motivation? “The Father” (Let Me In does not give Abby’s caretaker a proper name) comes right out and states it.
More annoying are the things that Let Me In changes to keep in line with the way an American horror movie is expected to be made nowadays. Chief among these things is how Abby changes when she asks “vampirish.” In closeup, her eyes change (they may or may not in LTROI), her facial features change, and her voice drops several octaves. In long-shot, she stops being played by Chloë Moretz and becomes, instead, a CGI monster that looks like a cross between every creepy preteen girl in every American, Japanese or European horror movie made since 1998 or so (Ringu/The Ring, Martyrs, Eskalofrío) and a coked-up Gollum. And the CGI is truly terrible; it makes the cat attack scene from LTROI look like ILM. The hospital fire is almost as bad. I found myself very grateful that the cat attack scene doesn’t happen.
There are other examples. Instead of starting at the beginning and following the story through to the end, Let Me In begins with a prologue taken from the middle of the story (bits of the first hospital sequence) before going back two weeks in time to the start of the story—just like 50% of all movies being made today. Conny, Oskar’s nemesis in the original, was a run-of-the-mill bully: not very nice, but a credible preteen. Owen’s opposite number is Kenny, played by Dylan Minnette (Jack Shepard’s flash-sideways son from the final season of Lost) as a budding psychopath who probably tortures puppies and starts fires when he’s not tormenting his classmates (he probably still wets the bed, too). Johan Söderqvist’s comparatively subdued score is replaced by Michael Giacchino (best known for his associations with Pixar and J.J. Abrams—he won an Oscar for scoring Up and an Emmy for scoring Lost) smearing bombastic orchestral blasts all over the soundtrack. (And under normal circumstances, I’m a fan of his!) And so on.
So, ultimately speaking, what we have with Let Me In is a good movie that is, nevertheless, a failure. It fails to justify its own existence beyond being “Let the Right One In, only in English.” I can’t really recommend it to anyone outside its target audience: people who normally would be interested in the original, but don’t like subtitled movies…and I would like to let those people know that there’s an English-language dialogue track on the DVD release. You’d be much better served by watching that instead.
Moment of Zen