Silver Screen: Let Me In ***
It’s worth noting that one of the most significant changes in the American adaptation of Tomas Alfredson’s Swedish horror film Let the Right One In is the truncated title. The American title, Let Me In, is similar, but by dropping the Right One it downplays the movie’s most significant theme and loses its nifty double-meaning. But overall the movie itself is so similar that the title change is not just a bad move, but a puzzler.
Both Alfredson’s film and the new one from Cloverfield director Matt Reeves are slavishly devoted to the source material, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s stellar, spooky novel. But Reeves’s version is almost equally slavishly devoted to the original film, borrowing not just the overall aesthetic but even several of its most prominent shots. As a consequence, it’s not really a failure, just a redundancy.
Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Road) stars as Owen, the bullied, introverted son of a newly single mom too caught up in her own drama and her seemingly bottomless carafe of wine to notice her son’s festering angst. He makes his first significant connection when he meets Abby (Chloë Moretz, recently seen in Kick-Ass), the strange girl next door who at first insists they cannot be friends.
Abby is lonely as well. Before her burgeoning friendship with Owen, fostered over nighttime conversations in their apartment building’s courtyard, her only interaction is with her caretaker (Richard Jenkins), who she insists is not her father. He keeps odd hours, too, regularly disappearing into the snowy night with a black duffel bag— right about the time a series of ritualistic-seeming murders devastates the town. But his macabre errands aren’t the product of his own twisted psyche; rather he’s dedicated his life to serving pre-teen Abby, who has an insatiable lust for human blood.
Like the best vampire fiction, Let Me In keeps the bits of legend that suit it and dispenses with the rest. Reeves’s (which is to say Lindqvist’s) vampires are bloodthirsty, turn ghoulish when hungerstruck, must avoid the sunlight, and possess uncanny strength and agility. They do not, however, sparkle, nor are they repelled by religious iconography. Most interestingly, they’re desexualized, so that the vampirism itself in a monstrous curse with no overtones of seduction or metaphorical notions of either abstinence or libertinism.
There is a significant— and profoundly disturbing— gender element to both the novel and Alfredson’s film, one Reeves excises entirely in his movie’s other major diversion. It’s perhaps for the best, as it seems unlikely an American R-rated movie would be able to do anything but indirectly hint at the horror; even the Swedish version, bold as it is, leaves the details of the twist so vague as to be confusing, thanks only partly to very poor translation in both the dubbing and subtitles.
Reeves’s other big contribution is to up the ante on the gore. Alfredson’s film was still, dark, and eerie, whereas Reeves cannot ape the long, quiet shots for too long before lapsing into some fodder for the Fangoria set. But that gore is pretty nicely handled and provides some visceral thrills, although it does provide an outlet for the tension that Alfredson lets mount for almost two solid hours.
If there’s any improvement in the American version, it’s the acting; the weirdly precocious Moretz has a different take on the character than her Swedish counterpart, Lina Leandersson, but it’s an equally valid one, and the young actress pulls off the role in a way that few of her peers ever could. The real standout, though, is the performance by the wonderful character actor Jenkins as a beleaguered killer. His scenes, which are significantly expanded in the American version, are easily the movie’s most chilling. It’s enough to justify Let Me In’s existence. The movie may be a bit superfluous, but it’s effective, anyway, and as good a start as any to the Halloween movie season.