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Let Me In

dir: Matt Reeves
[img_assist|nid=1370|title=For god's sake, let her in before she kills us all|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=400|height=566]
Remakes. The making thereof. Proof of creative bankruptcy, or just outright mercenary greed?

Let the Right One In was only made a few years ago, but it suffered from being made in the native language of its author, being Swedish. When certain Hollywoody types saw that film, they thought, “The film is so awesome that the only way we can improve upon it is by making it in American. That’ll earn us a packet, and show the Swedes how it’s really done.”

Of course, they remade it, it was little seen, and the point of the exercise, or the merits, remain solely on the artistic level.

I liked Let the Right One In plenty when I saw it at the cinema, and I read the book as well. In Swedish, initially, which was quite frustrating, since I can’t read Swedish. Then I tried in Swahili, then Farsi, and finally in an English translation. The book is solid, too. I have no particular axe to grind against an American remake in theory, so I went into this with my closest approximation of an open mind.

Let Me In is quite a nice film. It’s a horror film, with the pacing and scares of a horror film, but at its heart it’s a romance between an ancient predator called Abby, who masquerades as a little girl (Chloe Moritz), and a twelve-year-old boy called Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee).

Both have their problems. Owen’s parents are divorcing, he’s stuck with his alcoholic, god-bothering mother (whose face we deliberately never see), and he is tormented at school by bullies who mock his lack of masculinity. Abby has just moved in to the same drab apartment complex as Owen with a man who we assume is her father (Richard Jenkins), and, oh yeah, she constantly craves human blood.

Their biggest problem is that they’re living in the 80s, with everything that goes along with it: the bad hair, the terrible clothing, the often horrifying music, all of it.

Most of what was in both the book and the earlier film are here, too. So if you liked it before, you could like it again. What they leave out is as interesting as what they add in.

They are in the town of Los Alamos, New Mexico, which, for some reason, is a snowbound winter wonderland. When I think of New Mexico, I don’t think of snow. Far from it. But apparently, it gets cold there, too.

The cold, or the snow, even if you translate this story to other languages and change the setting, is crucial to the telling of it. It’s funny how absolutely central it is to it. Nothing else can show the strangeness of Abby, before the obvious revelation, like the manner in which she’s unaffected by cold.

It helps the plot in certain ways, but it also tremendously helps the mood and the visual setting. It’s a very moody, very evenly-paced flick, and the makers should be commended for resisting the urge, and probably massive studio pressure, to change those fundamental aspects of how this story should be told, and where it derives its pathos and meaning from.

You know, making it nothing like those goddamn Twilight flicks.

But, in the interests of either making it more palatable to American audiences, or out of sheer creative laziness, plenty of elements have been simplified or left out entirely. Abby’s relationship with her adult helper is rendered far more family friendly in a flick that’s anything but family friendly. Her gender, as well, has been, shall we say, simplified. Owen, as well, is rendered far more ‘sweet’ than either the Oskar of the book or the other film, who was a deviant little proto-Columbine fantasising about murder all day.

The boy character’s relationship with his parents is also simplified and pared down, with no time spent with the alcoholic father, whose boozing is more a problem because of his emotional neediness, as opposed to the usual way parental boozing is represented in books and films.

Abby, as well, instead of sometimes looking like a completely different monstrous person at times of high passion, or when there’s spilled blood around, just looks like a slightly more Marilyn Manson version of herself.

The core, though, is how Abby and Owen are with each other, from the initial tentativeness, to the strengthening of their bond into something truly unholy, and here the two actors and the director really strike gold. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, and the two leads do a remarkable job. Chloe Moritz especially, who dazzled and horrified the world as Hit Girl in Kick Ass, does a great job with the character. She’s very well able to get across the juxtaposition of being something that looks like a little girl, with the appetites of a monster, tinging her performance with tired sweetness as well as cruel self-interest.

In the biggest (yet fairly unobvious) difference, with the change in the nature (and longevity) of Abby’s relationship with her ‘helper’, implied as having been for a very long period of time, we are meant to view the ending, which seems triumphant and happy, as anything but. It’s hard to know what to hope for.

Where there’s change, there’s opportunity, and they had the chance to rectify some of what I would call mistakes from the earlier movie. There’s a whole subplot with some of the other loser characters who live in the apartment block that has been excised, which is to the film’s benefit, and it also means a scene with dozens of computer generated cats was also left out.

Thank fuck for that. But the problem remains when they replicate some of the action where Abby goes on kill crazy rampages. It’s all CGI, and it’s obvious CGI, which looks cheap. Surely they could have gotten some Filipino midget to work those scenes in a better fashion. The CGI here looks cheaper than the Swedish equivalent, and that’s an achievement. I usually don’t notice or care about details like that, but when it sticks out like dog’s balls in a flick which is otherwise so carefully constructed, it’s distracting and off-putting.

It doesn’t wreck anything too badly. The core of the story is still there, and Owen’s problems are still often of the mundane and believable variety. His problems with his main bully are that the bully really, really hates him for no obvious reason other than he senses, like bullies are often good at sensing, that Owen is primed for bullying. It’s like he’s begging for it, especially considering the way he’s dressed.

Owen’s loneliness and isolation is what makes him also, similarly, ready for someone like Abby to come along, with her particular agenda. Just as the bullies suspect, at least initially, that Owen won’t stick up for himself, report them, or fight back, so, too, does Abby sense not a kindred spirit, but someone isolated and dejected enough to eventually serve her needs.

That’s chilling stuff. We are meant never to forget that she is a monster. Her cravings are frequent, and her control is sparse. She needs a helper the way Owen needs a protector, so they could form the perfect parasitic relationship with each other, gods willing.

I can’t say whether it’s a better flick than the Swedish one. They’re so similar, and yet so different. At the risk of irritating my legions of Swedish fans, I would argue that there are key scenes in the remake that are better handled, better directed than in the earlier one, but that those scenes aren’t really the ones crucial to the story. With the exclusion of the last scene of incredible violence, both directors took extreme care during the quieter, more conversational character scenes. Even the scenes between Abby and her father figure are perfectly handled though different in intent, but just the most basic hand gestures and caresses are imbued with so much meaning that it’s startling.

And what I’d refer to as one of the most crucial scenes, being the “can I come in? You have to say it” explanation of what happens when you don’t invite them in, is handled differently but just as well in either. The benchmark was high, and it was met, as far as I care, and I care a fair bit.

There’s not a lot of daylight between the quality of the two, if you’ll forgive the pun.

As a vampire flick, well, even as a remake it stands head and shoulders above the vampire flicks Hollywood and everyone else has been producing for decades, so we should still be grateful for that. And as a story about young love, well, it’s perfect! There’s nothing to feel bad about regarding liking this flick as much as the other one. Let The Right One In will still be the ‘definitive’ version of this story, but Let Me In does such a good (if superfluous, unless you really, really hate subtitles, which I don’t) job that there’s nothing to dislike about it, and a lot to love.

8 times I think we all could have done with a fearsome protector like Abby at 12 out of 10

“But how old are you, really? “
- “Twelve. But I've been twelve for a very long time.” – Let Me In.