FILM REVIEW Let Me In
Lost in translation?
15 * 116 mins * 5 November 2010
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Cara Buono, Sasha Barrese
Noone should berate Cloverfield’s Matt Reeves for agreeing to direct this remake of Tomas Alfredson’s 2008 film Let The Right One In. Let Me In is the product of talented filmmakers who clearly have a sincere respect for the Swedish film, and who’ve done their level best to produce a work of beauty and artistic integrity, not a cheap, lazy Xerox.
But it’s not as good as the original.
That’s far from a condemnation, of course. Alfredson’s film is a modern masterpiece. For the benefit of anyone who’s been trapped under a giant rock, or those who spurn subtitled movies (in which case, we hope a giant rock drops on you very soon), a swift summation. Sleepy suburb of Stockholm, early ‘80s. Young Oskar, bullied at school, fantasises of revenge. Girl and father move in next door. Friendship blossoms into awkward romance. Revelation: Eli is actually centuries-old vampire; “father” devoted companion who slits throats to supply blood. Ain’t love complicated?
Matt Reeves’s Stateside switch relocates the story to Los Alamos, New Mexico, renaming the characters Owen and Abby. Fair enough. The decade’s the same, the kids remain 12 year-olds, and the snowbound vistas are carried over. The colossal sigh of relief that surges up when you realise you won’t be watching 25-year-old high school kids making out in modern-day LA is so profound it may leave you in need of a quick puff on an oxygen tank.
But there are changes, and while none will have cinemagoers leaping to their feet and screaming, “Heresy!”, they’re not necessarily improvements. The film kicks off looking like a police procedural, as we see a man leaping from a hospital window, then flashback to see how we reached this point. It’s a perfectly acceptable way to ease audiences in with a familiar narrative device. But still, it’s what we expect. And with the cop investigating, the character of Lacke – a neighbour who originally performed this function – is downgraded, which drains the tale of some of its eccentric character.
In its stead comes a touch of voyeurism, as Owen observes his neighbours through a telescope. Of all the additional things Matt Reeves could have drawn from the original novel, the fact that the characters live in the same apartment block and see each other coming and going is one of the least interesting, especially when there’s so much extra material to choose from. The MO of Abby’s guardian is now straight out of a slasher film – he hides in the back of people’s cars with a bag on his head.
The original film was also more sparing with its use of effects, restricting it to, say, subtly tweaking the size of Eli’s eyes. Here, when Abby attacks, she transforms into a CGI creation which, as it leaps about, begins to resemble Gollum after one too many espressos. When we see her scampering up the side of a building, it’s hard to restrain a smirk. And in the midst of her bloodlust, she acquires white contact lenses. Hmm.
Moretz herself delivers another superb performance, full of subtlety and maturity. Bit somehow it almost seems too mature, too technically proficient, compared with the naïve, untutored performances from the original film. You watch thinking, “What a great piece of acting!” With Let The Right One In, you just felt like you were watching a girl.
Matt Reeves does add some lovely touches. Scenes between Owen and Abby are suffused with a rich, honey-gold glow that’s like toffee for the eyes. During the hospital scenes, we see Ronald Reagan on TV pontificating about how, “There is sin and evil in the world” – a clever way to underline the question of whether Abby is evil. And there’s a huge photo of the lunar surface on Owen’s bedroom wall, so every time he looks towards Abby’s apartment it’s as if he’s dreaming of escape to another world.
And yet, as a car tumbles down a bank and flips over, or as emotional strings surge prettily in the background to tell you to feel sad now, it’s impossible to deny that the subtlety has been dialled down by a good 5-10%, with the result that what’s unfolding on-screen feels just a little more like a movie, and a little less like everyday life as it is lived. Still, as Hollywood remakes go, a mere 5-10% is a good result.