Readers may be aware of my abiding affection for Let the Right One In (Låt den rätte komma in), a Swedish film about an unsettling endearment between a prepubescent boy and the vampire kid next door. Tomas Alfredson‘s picture is a disquieting meditation on youthful alienation and longing, colored with the subtly menacing hues of 1980s Sweden. Perfect in every way, the movie made me rush to read the source material — a novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist.
The Lindqvist novel is pretty long, so a lot of compelling characters and narrative arcs never made the movie. One such plotline concerns the true nature of Eli’s guardian, Hakan. (I won’t spoil it for you, in case you plan to read the book, which I highly recommend.)
When I heard about an American remake, my heart sank. Why aren’t these exemplary European movies good enough for the U.S. market? Do we always have to ruin them with our hamfisted cinematography and on-the-nose scripts? (David Fincher‘s upcoming remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo may be an exception.)
Worse still, they changed the name from the enigmatic and evocative Let the Right One In to the more mundane Let Me In (I’ve argued with people about which is the more accurate translation, and my best Swedes tell me it’s the former.)
I wasn’t as bothered by the choice of director, Matt Reeves. Cloverfield was decent pop trash, and from what I’d heard, Reeves is a fan of both Lindqvist’s novel and the Swedish movie. He hasn’t directed much else (does “Felicity” count?), but he clearly wants to make his mark with something. Could it be a sweet-sad-sinister vampire love story from Europe?
I had my doubts.
After reading a glowing New York Times review (and several others), however, I concluded that Let Me In probably didn’t suck. So the missus and I went to see it last night in a theater quarter-full of obnoxious Americans who probably thought they were in for a pederast version of “True Blood.”
The casting was solid. It’s impossible to find an Oscar (now Owen) as sad and lost looking as the kid in the Swedish flick, and it’s even harder to find an Eli (now Abby) who puts across the appropriate mix of eerie beauty and repulsiveness. Keep in mind they need to be child actors! Chloë Grace Moretz (Hit Girl from the odious Kick Ass) is quite good, but a smidge too sweet in the sweet parts and not quite vile enough in vamp mode. Still, I can’t think of any young U.S. actress that could have made it work so well.
Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Owen, giving his gawky pathos a uniquely American twist. (McPhee was last seen in the adaptation of Cormac McCarthy‘s The Road — he’s clearly cornered the market for depressing kids’ roles.) Large-eyed and rail-thin, the young actor is a choice vehicle for the character’s defiant piteousness.
Set in a grim and frostbitten Los Alamos New Mexico in 1983, Let Me In proceeds at a down tempo, allowing Reeves to transcend (and in parts improve) upon the gorgeous cinematography of the original. This also lets perennially underappreciated character actor Elias Koteas — who plays a forlorn cop on the hunt for a nonexistent Satanic cult — ooze in and out of scenes like spoiled convenience store creamer.
The great Richard Jenkins (papa Nathaniel from “Six Feet Under”) plays the guardian, and it’s nice to see a bit more development of that character. It’s still nothing like the book, though trust me.
Reeves did a killer job capturing the crippling ennui of Reagan’s America (to all of you Gipper apologists: I lived there, and it was all the more bleak for the relentless jingoism). No matter how many times you spun “Let’s Dance,” 1983 was not a cheerful year. Are vampires really any more frightening than bullies, divorce, latchkeys and Cold War propaganda? Owen doesn’t think so, and neither do I.
There are scary scenes, for sure — perhaps scarier than the Swedish film, which was more unsettling than frightening. If I had to choose, I prefer the stark beauty of the foreign version, but there are things that, as an American, read truer to me here. The bullying, for one. We’re really good at that.
My only real faults with Let Me In is that it missed the chance to incorporate more of the stuff from the book. But again, I can see how that would be difficult from both a rating and runtime perspective.
What’s good about Let Me In is great. What’s just OK is still leaps and bounds above any genre exercise I’ve seen lately (well, besides House of the Devil, which is just that: an exercise).
This film is clearly not for Americans, even the American version. It was very difficult to watch with an adult audience who were far lest sophisticated than the 12 year-olds onscreen. That’s fine, I’ll end up owning it anyway, which will let me compare and contrast to my black heart’s content. For now, I’ll simply recommend that you see it.
One final takeaway: Americans have a far higher tolerance for explicit violence than we do even the hint of sexual deviance. I’ll leave viewers of both films to grok my meaning.