Let Me In: A Vampire Remake Worth Welcoming

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Overture Films

Chloë Grace Moretz in Let Me In

Any remake is going be judged, at least by film critics (a notoriously persnickety bunch) against its original. Before press screenings of Let Me In, director Matt Reeves' remake of the spectacular 2008 Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In, there were plenty of rumblings about the pointlessness of producing an American version so soon after a film that was practically perfect in the first place. The word unnecessary hung in the air.

I backed that sentiment, having been wildly passionate about director Tomas Alfredson's film, an adaption of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel Let the Right One In. But Let Me In won me over for three reasons. First, it is a good film in its own right, capturing the story's wistful, dark essence if not the spooky art of Alfredson's rendering. Relocated from bleakest Sweden to the wintry American Southwest and reset to the heyday of Ronald Reagan and Boy George, it is still the tale of an eerily beautiful 12-year-old vampire, now named Abby (the remarkably confident and skilled Chloë Grace Moretz of Kick-Ass fame), who moves into a dreary apartment complex with her keeper of sorts, an older man posing as her father (Richard Jenkins, wonderfully sad) and there befriends a boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Owen, also 12, has his own problems: he lives in terrible fear of his classmates' bullying at his dreary Los Alamos, N.M., middle school.

Second, of the approximately 150 films I've seen so far this year, I'd use the term necessary to describe about three of them, which makes Reeves' decision to take his own swing at the material at least as justifiable as, say, Jonah Hex. Finally, and most important, there is the matter of my old friend Tom, who would go see a foreign film with subtitles only if he were invited to a Brazilian blockbuster by Gisele Bündchen and she sat in his lap for the entire two hours, whispering sweet Portuguese translations in his ear. Never mind that film is a visual medium and that once you've seen and loved a movie, you don't remember it in another language; you remember it as you felt it. Some people just don't do subtitles. For them, there are remakes.

Alfredson opened his film with snow drifting out of the night sky and the image of a pale blond boy stabbing the air with a knife and muttering a series of threats into the darkness. Reeves, who earlier had directed Cloverfield, opens Let Me In with mayhem. A crime suspect with terrible acid burns on his face is rushed to the hospital in the dark of night. A policeman (Elias Koteas) tries and fails to question him; while his back is turned, the suspect tumbles out of a seventh-story window, an apparent suicide. At this point, we go back in time two weeks to learn what brought us here. The character of the policeman is entirely new, perhaps to serve that American liking for having someone on the job, investigating, even though in vampireland there are no tidy endings, no courts in which to eke out justice. His presence, and the flashback, suggest that Reeves believes he has to get the blood pumping early — this is America, darn it. The mystery and the horror have to be bigger.

Although the overall tone of Let Me In is gratifyingly somber, and some scenes play out the same, almost frame by frame, as they do in the original, Reeves' film does feel more like a horror movie than Let the Right One In did. A vampire explodes when exposed to sunlight, and Reeves brings us in close to watch her suffer in bloody agony. Lindqvist's original screenplay made her flameout a deliberate choice, and Alfredson shot it like a surreal hallucination. This feels crass in comparison. When Abby is forced to hunt for herself, rather than drink from the gallon jugs of blood Father helpfully procures, she morphs into a CGI creature that looks more buglike than girllike. In vampire form, she sounds like Regan from The Exorcist — a shame, since Moretz proves throughout that she's plenty capable as an actress of convincing us that Abby is to be feared (and also loved). But not all of Reeves' choices are unsubtle. Owen lives with his loving but distracted-by-drink mother (Cara Buono, who plays Don Draper's new girlfriend Faye on Mad Men), and Reeves shoots her at angles that never reveal her whole face. She's only half there, as befitting a mother who can only guess at her child's pain.

Let Me In is not as fantastic as Let the Right One In, which you should rent immediately. But it is undeniably powerful and made with obvious admiration and respect for the source material. And for the subtitle-eschewing Toms of the world — and there are many — Let Me In is a chance to experience a story about finding courage and making choices in the name of devotion, choices which are strange, awful and also beautiful. Two outcasts, one who lives in the permanent misery of the undead, the other in the misery of middle school, find comfort in each other. The latter would be escapable in the coming years, but Owen, like so many adolescents, doesn't see it as temporary. For him, Abby is the right one to let in, although we see the tragedy that awaits him. I'd still take Alfredson's version over Reeves', but I wouldn't close the door in Let Me In's face either.