When Hollywood remakes a critically adored foreign film, the fear is usually that the new version will deface the original like a kid with a set of Koki pens let loose on the Mona Lisa. Let Me In, a remake of an artsy Swedish vampire movie, suffers from the opposite problem of treating the original with a little too much reverence.
The film, competently directed by Cloverfield’s Matt Reeves, is based on Let the Right One In, which in turn was an adaptation of a book of the same name by Swedish horror novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist. Though it excises a couple of subplots, changes the names of the characters and transplants the story from Sweden to Los Alamos, New Mexico, it follows the plot of the original film closely.
Let Me In is a genre-twisting coming-of-age drama spliced with horror genre genes. Bullied at school and living through his parents’ painful divorce, 12-year-old Owen turns to his new neighbour Abby for comfort. Though she has the body of a 12-year-old girl, Abby is actually a vampire of unknown age.
Abby relies on an older man to source human blood in the obvious manner — not the blood bank — to keep her alive. Though there are the grisly deaths of any vampire film, Let Me In is far more concerned with the evolving relationship between the two alienated outsiders. Is it a friendship, a romance or a master-servant arrangement? That ambiguity is the key to the film.
Aside from some low-budget special effects, there isn’t much to fault Let Me In on the technical front. Reeves takes many cues from the original in his version of the story and many frames of the two films are near identical. His film is also mostly true to the eerie mood of the original and its emphasis on character over scares.
As drained of colour and hope as Let the Right One In, Let Me In plays out in a bleak, wintery landscape and moves at a glacial pace. When there’s violence, it’s squalid and disturbing. These vampires are not the glittering teen idols of Twilight, but embodiments of the basest and most desperate human desires.
Perhaps the best element of the film is the performances and chemistry of its two young leads, Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen and Chloe Moretz as Abby. The two actors bring poignancy and maturity to these complex roles — the 14-year-old Moretz especially. Following hard on the heels of her parts in 500 Days of Summer and Kick-ass, the performance is sure to secure her spot as one of Hollywood’s rising stars.
If Let Me In is mostly faithful to the original, should those who can’t be bothered to find the Swedish film or who hate subtitles watch it instead of Let the Right One In? No, because the few changes that it does make to the source material are for the worse.
Let the Right One In has an enigmatic pull because it only hints at some of the darker aspects of the novel, such as the secret of Abby’s gender and the true nature of her relationship with her familiar. Let Me In doesn’t just skirt around these issues, but avoids them completely. It feels less substantial as a result.
Where the characterisations in Let the Right One In are subtle and ambiguous, Let Me In defines good and evil more starkly. With his flat affect and fascination with violence, the original film’s Oskar is nearly as creepy as he is pitiful. Owen is likeable and normal, turning the American film into a more straightforward tale of innocence corrupted.
Let Me In trailer (via YouTube):
Let the Right One in trailer (via YouTube):
Let the Right One In also balanced its sombre tone with a darkly comical subplot about a bunch of neighbourhood drunkards that fall prey one by one to the vampire’s appetite. Without those interludes, Let Me In is relentlessly slow and depressing.
Let Me In doesn’t feel like a cynical cash-in. It is a well-made film that may have something to offer those who haven’t seen Let the Right One In. But much like the American versions of Ringu, Dark Water and La Femme Nikita, it is a pointless remake. After all, why look at a student’s study of an artwork when you can see the original instead? — Lance Harris, TechCentral