“Matt Reeves’ Let Me In, what a disappointment!” This is what I wrote on my original review of the film a few months back. Now that the DVD and Blu-ray have been released in Britain, I have to say that it is a pretty decent remake of Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In, which was a masterpiece of horror cinema in my opinion (and many others too). While I do regard Let Me In as a good film on its own regard, possibly, one of the best American vampire movies I would have appreciated it much more if the original did not exist. Masterpiece is not, in spite of the powerful performances of the leads actor, Chloë Grace Moretz as Abby (Eli) and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Owen (Oskar), with the satrong support of Richard Jenkins as the "father". Both young actors should had received at least a nomination for the Oscars 2001.
Reeves, in his quest to make a version of John Advide Lindqvist story that American audiences would be able to make their own, had to eliminate too much of the subtlety, social background and poetry of the original, whilst upping the tension of the vampire sequences, transforming a low pacing story of love and, to some extent, redemption, into a fast pacing action movie. The original film is so beautiful that it is very difficult to compete with it. Whilst Reeves does not really fail to do so, I really missed all what was left out, particularly the entwining of several stories that gave Let the Right One In not only a much deeper understanding of the central relationship between Abby and Owen, but enriched it. In other words, Matt Reeves, by aiming at a more mainstream audience, sacrificed the “grain” that defined the original.
Where the Alfredson’s version begins with a poetic scene of snow falling, a very soft sound on the background, and Oskar ruminating his anger in his bedroom in a social housing estate, Reeves begins with a convoy of police cars escorting an ambulance, all sirens and lights blazing, setting straightaway the overcooked and overbearing tone and pacing of Let Me In.
In a way, I could say that Reeves made two films in one, a typical American style horror film, and a story of love and longing of two twelve year old misfits, Owen (Oskar), a bullied boy with dreams of revenge, traits of a psychopath killer already growing in him, and Abby (Eli), a girl who may be not be a girl after all, who is also twelve, the difference being that she has been twelve year old for a very long time. Through her friendship with the bullied Owen, Abby is able to reclaim back her own childhood as a 12 year old, not this kind of limbo like childhood where she is both a child and a very old woman who has seen and done acts that repulsed her intensely just to survive, where she has been 12 year old “for a very long time”, since her own was so cruelly stolen from her all those centuries before by a bullying and rapist landlord. This is the central theme of the story. Alfredson is able to play a counterpoint between Eli (Abby) and Oskar (Owen) story with the strong camaraderie enriching the social milieu where Eli/Abby is preying upon.
There is one scene, which I thought it was crucial, in Let The Right One In, missing in Let Me In: when Eli confronts Oskar after she went into his apartment in spite that she was not invited in (and, therefore, putting herself in mortal danger), remonstrating the first words she heard him saying when he was stabbing at a tree pretending it was the boy bullying him, and expressing that she does what she does because either she does it or she dies, while Oskar has options, yet he is already developing as a potential psychopathic killer.
That world weariness is intensely conveyed by both Chloë Grace Moretz and Lina Leandersson. However, Lina expressed that sadness, the sadness of a vampire who does not want to be one, a killer who does not want to kill, so intensely that I could feel it throughout my being, particularly in that scene in Let The Right One In when Eli is doing the Rubik cube. It was just unbearable to watch. On that scene, Lina’s performance was superior than Chloë’s, although I have no doubt that she would have been able to reach that sense of deep and intense inner despair if Matt Reeves had allowed that scene to breathe more. He cut it too soon, therefore not leaving Chloë room to “let it go”.
Alfredson captures this central theme of longing, longing for a childhood to be as that of everybody else: for Oskar to be able to go out to school and around without being bullied, and for Eli to be, for once, a twelve year old human being she actually was once upon a time who can establish a close relationship with a boy of her own age as if she were a child, without seeing that boy simply as a source of blood. Both Chloë Grace Moretz and Lina Leandersson were able to powerfully express that inner conflict tearing Abby ‘s (Eli’s) inner self apart.
Reeves, while he is also able to capture that sense of longing, his overblown treatment of the violent and gory scenes manage to disrupt that central story to properly unfold, the pacing just completely blows it apart. Even so, in one scene where Abby (Eli) disposes of the “father” (Richard Jenkins) in hospital, after he has been captured, Alfredson manages to shoot it in a much more effective manner; even the make-up on the face of the actor was more realistic than in the American version (which looks too much like any other horror film monster rather than the face of a common guy disfigured by acid). However, in almost every other scene, Reeves’ overcooked treatment fundamentally disturbs the pacing of the film and looses the nuances of the original: Virginia catching fire ends up with the top floor of the hospital in fire, the shots of Abby jumping onto his victims are so ridiculous, I could have seen that it was a mannequin on top of the unfortunate victims even if I were a mile away, the blood splattering everywhere, or the old Abby appearing under the sweet and pretty face of the twelve year old Abby is grotesque and it goes on for too long (when she jumps and licks the blood on the floor after Owen tries to make a pact with her by mixing their blood); in the Alfredson version, there is just a hint of Eli’s old self appearing on her face, and much more realistic, at that.
Matt Reeves claims in a Twitter Q & A session that he was inspired by Dial M for Murder, I dare to suggest that he rather should had been inspired by Psycho instead, particularly by the shower scene. A key problem with this film was expressed in an overheard comment made by someone when I was leaving the cinema: “I am desensitized.” When we reach the final scene in the school swimming pool, I just did not care, not any more, because of the lack of subtlety not only of its treatment, but also of all the previous gory scenes. In the original Swedish film, the restraint of its treatment injected even a bit of humour into this macabre scene, something which is mostly absent in Reeves’ version.
There is a darkness and world weariness in Let Me In which is missing from most contemporary American vampire movies.The cinematograpgy is just superb.
If you have seen Let The Right One In, it is worth to see Let Me In, although it is quite a different film. It is not entirely a remake, as Reeves wrote the script mostly from Lindqvist’s book, incorporating elements from the Swedish film. Chloë G Moretz claims that she did not see the original film before shooting Let Me In (although she revealed that she has seen it since then in a recent interview to The Telegraph), however, the fact that some scenes are a frame by frame mirror of Alfredson’s film suggests that she was closely directed by Reeves.
If Chloë Grace Moretz continues to perform as she has done here, she could well be one of the great American actors of the 21st Century.
Let Me In DVD and Blu-ray are out for sale in Britain now.
There is an audio commentary from director Matt Reeves, a featurette in the making of the film and interviews to the actors (watch Chloë Grace Moretz performs for the TV cameras and her warmth to her fans) and director, deleted scenes and other extra features.
Trailer and stills
To read my original review of Let Me In please click here.
Trailer and stills
To read my original review of Let Me In please click here.