Let Me In

Children are creepy.

That’s the main thing to keep in mind while watching Let Me In, the English-language remake of Tomas Alfredson‘s fantastic vampire film Let the Right One In.  They look like little people, but they have a completely alien way of looking at the world, with bonds of human connection still forming, and if you’re not careful, they’ll leave you to be murdered in a bathroom somewhere.

That’s extremely likely to happen if you’re an introverted young boy, relentlessly bullied at school and with a mother who is so preoccupied by her jerk of a husband and failing marriage she leaves you to your own devices most of the time.  Which happens to be just the case with young Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who has been left to his own devices for so long his mother has completely failed to notice he has begun ritually stabbing trees and walls, playing out fantasies of getting back at the school bullies who harass him.  He is so starving for genuine interpersonal connection he’ll take it anywhere he can find it, even in the form of the permanently pubescent vampire (Chloë Moretz) who moves in next door.

Matt Reeves’ (Cloverfield) adaptation is less of a remake of Alfredson’s film and more of another film version of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s original novel. Like Alfredson, Reeves has chosen wisely to focus purely on Owen and Abby’s relationship and jettison as much extraneous matter as possible, for the most part merely substituting snowy 1980s New Mexico for snowy 1980s Sweden (and proving that the Justin Bieber haircut has become so ubiquitous it has somehow managed to travel back in time).  The only real intrusion of American tastes (or, at least, studio tastes) comes in the form of Elias Koteas’ police officer who is investigating a string of mysterious murders.

But it’s not about the blood, or the decapitation, or the acid to the face.  It’s about two people, lost in their own way, finding each other.  More importantly, it’s an honest exploration of what relationships really are and how we fetishize them.

Everyone wants to find just one other person they connect with honestly and without judgment, not just for the deep psychological comfort it provides (replacing as it does the relationship between parent and child with the new adult relationship) but also for the evolutionary perquisites required of all of us to procreate and pass our genes on.  Let Me In delightfully subverts all of that, while also reveling in its positive aspects.  The tension is genuinely disturbing in the way horror should be but so rarely is.

None of which would work if the child actors weren’t good enough to pull it off.  Chloë Moretz, who stole Kick Ass‘s thunder from everyone is just as good here, moving easily between being endearing and being eerie without ever feeling false.  Even without knowing her nature, it’s clear from the get-go that there’s something wrong with her, but always in the context of being a 12-year-old girl, never some person’s version of what a 12-year-old should be like.  Moretz is captivating in the role and yet never steals the spotlight from her co-star or makes you too aware of what’s going on.

And that’s because Reeves has kept his focus on the story throughout, never giving in to the desire for a cheap scare, though there are plenty of jumps and startles as it wears on.  More often, though, and more effectively it takes pains to show exactly what it’s going to do and then slowly but surely do it, leaving the audience to squirm uncomfortably.

A discomfort that should increase with time is the dichotomy of the central relationship.  On the one hand, it truly is loving and real; on the other, it requires sacrifice on a murderous, horrific scale to continue.  In our modern, emotionally-driven storytelling, it pushes some difficult buttons, and that’s a good thing.  What do you do when rooting for your protagonist to find love and be happy means rooting for an innocent person to die horribly?

The supporting cast, what there is of it, is decent but largely absent except for Richard Jenkins as Abby’s guardian, conveying the very essence of weariness.  Most of the side characters of the novel have been pared to down to almost non-existence to make room, partially for the police detective, but mostly for our couple.  Even Jenkins, whose main purpose is to lay out a very dark future for Owen as his and Abby’s history eventually comes to light.

Make no mistake about it, Let Me In is a dark movie in the way a horror film should be, taking out disturbing parts of our own cultural and psyche and showing them to us.  Beyond just the natural tug-of-war between Abby and Owen’s relationship and the outside world, there is the continuing subtext of youthful introduction to sex turned dark and deadly, particularly given the fact that Abby spends a healthy part of the film covered in blood.

Which is one of the few times Let Me In fails to captivate.  In order to show Abby’s inhuman rampages, the film occasionally resorts to CGI, which is just not up to the challenge, jerking the viewer out of the moment.  It’s at its horrific best in the moments when we can’t see what’s going on, we can only hear and imagine, but Reeves doesn’t seem to have it in him to leave things at that.

But that is really a small fleeting complaint for a genuinely adult and disturbing horror film.  A lot of people like to flee from that adult horror description because it usually means slow, and that’s accurate here.  Let Me In is slow and thoughtful, and its most chilling aspects require consideration after the fact by the viewer rather than simple thrills that wash over you viscerally and are just quickly gone.

But don’t let that dissuade you.  This is horror the way it should be done; funny, endearing, and disturbing, all in equal measures.  Don’t pass it up.

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen
Chloë Moretz as Abby
Richard Jenkins as The Father
Elias Koteas as A Policeman
Cara Buono as Owen’s Mother
Dylan Minnette as Kenny
Jimmy Pinchak as Mark
Nicolai Dorian as Donald
Sasha Barrese as Virginia
Brett DelBuono as Jimmy
Chris Browning as Jack

(Hammer Film Productions -- http://www.hammerfilms.com/; EFTI -- http://www.efti.se/; Let Me In -- http://www.letmein-movie.com/)
BUY ME: Amazon

Review by . Review posted Friday, October 1st, 2010. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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