Two years ago there was already a phenomenal film adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s vampire novel LET THE RIGHT ONE IN. Nowadays in the US filmmakers are drooling for the opportunity to snatch up remakes of any successful foreign film to deliver the material to the American audiences. That just happens to be the case for LET ME IN, scooped up for retelling here in the states, and in many ways it stands as a formidable foe to the Swedish version, but those that are familiar with and adore the first go around may find the redo slightly rushed even at a limber two hours.
LET ME IN is set in New Mexico in March of 1983. Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a fragile 12 year old kid and is bullied ruthlessly at school by three classmates. Owen’s mother is an odd combination of an alcoholic and a religious fanatic in the middle of a bitter divorce with Owen’s father. Before too long a strange girl named Abby (Chloe Moretz) moves into the apartment next door. Abby walks around barefoot in the snow, lives with an older man Owen believes to be her father and lives with cardboard covering the windows during the day. On their first encounter Abby tells Owen that they can’t be friends, but in no time the two develop a very close relationship as Abby teaches Owen to stick up for himself and fills a void growing in his life. There is something dark and evil about Owen’s new friend though, but she remains drawn to Owen’s innocence, but there could be something lingering in Owen’s loneliness that draws the two closer together.
I want to start by saying that LET ME IN is a very good film on its own, but stacked up against the Swedish version that came before it; it didn’t quite match the quality of the original. It qualifies as a remake due to the inclusion and re imagining of iconic and key scenes from the original, but does change things up and even improves other aspects that may have been dull the first go around. I believe that those unfamiliar with the Swedish title will grasp the material easily and soak all the drama and adolescent romance in, while being terrified of all the horror elements in play. It can also be said that while the original unfolded very slow and deliberately the American version while still two hours in length forces what made LET THE RIGHT ONE IN so good in favor of more brutal attack scenes and gore.
I wanted to spend minimal time comparing the two films together and focus on what makes LET ME IN a solid horror/drama. One of the biggest strengths of the film is the solid cast. Chloe Moretz is an extremely talented actress, and at times is absolutely chilling as Abby. She portrays such a warm and caring presence that when she attacks she’s all the more terrifying. As good as Chloe is, I cannot help but give props to Kodi McPhee as Owen. My heart broke for this poor kid being absolutely tormented by his three bullies. It’s an aspect that worked immensely well in both versions, but somehow the brutality of the bullying seemed to have much more weight in this version. They use Owen’s victimization so well that when he stands up to them, or anything bad happens to them you can’t help but want to cheer. The one character that had the opportunity to add more tragedy to the story is the older man character played by Richard Jenkins. While Jenkins plays the role perfectly, he’s shockingly underused, getting minimal face time but effective no matter what he’s doing. Everything new that Reeves has included in this version improves on the original, but the scenes that are almost identical feel slightly forced, but viewers who haven’t seen the original probably won’t even notice. In the interest of spoilers I hesitate to talk about specific scenes to preserve the experience, but there’s one scene towards the end that’s both brilliant and excessive.
Another triumph of the film is the dark and brooding tone that it hammers down on the outset. There’s a consistent booming drum beat that kicks the film off and rears its head around every corner setting an uneasy feeling of dread that you can’t shake no matter what might be happening. It speaks to the confidence that Matt Reeves brought to the table with all the judging eyes biting at the chance to tear the film apart to honor the original. The angles at which the action scenes are shot are magnificent, even if there is a certain element during those scenes that is extremely distracting.
When the film transitions into scenes of violence there are some very effective gore moments and terrifying imagery, but one thing in the action scenes just begs to be pointed out by how distractingly mediocre it was. Whenever Abby goes on the attack, the use of CGI to portray her quickness and strength is blatantly obvious and in no way can be mistaken for quality special effects. There was absolutely nothing CGI could do that simplicity and absence of vision couldn’t do. There’s excellent use of sound effects, but the filmmakers dropped the ball on the CGI. Quick cuts and simple stunts could have made the attack scenes infinitely memorable for the right reasons instead of being laughably bad.
Even with the unfortunate use of CGI, it can’t be understated that the portrayal of violence is undoubtedly effective. There are stretches of heavy drama, that are often followed by punctuated acts of violence and more often than not they are vicious. The violence combined with the dark color palette and innocence of the young actors make for a tense and brooding film experience.
There is a lot to love about LET ME IN, and had I seen the film without having the original sitting in the back of my mind it probably would have been even better. As an adaptation the film is a great piece of art and is competently directed. It’s got a great cast that give fantastic performances; it’s a film that will break your heart one second and send chills up your spine the next. If not for some tremendously jarring CGI work and some forced dialogue it could have been one of the year’s best.