Thursday, October 7, 2010

Letting her in forever

An American version of the excellent 2008 Swedish vampire film Let The Right One In I suppose was inevitable, although not unwelcome. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) is the man behind this U.S. version which retains the exact tone of the original and occupies it with well cast actors and a proper and well tuned sense of gloom and dread.

The world of both these films is lacking in any definition of joy or sunniness. This is a bleak, dark and cruel world filled with broken families, scarred children, subzero temperatures and bizarre murder.

The setting in the remake is 1980s New Mexico. A worrisome detective (underrated actor Elias Koteas) is conducting an investigation of some brutal murders in which the victims have been drained of all blood. He knows a creepy middle aged man (Richard Jenkins) is involved but that's only one loose piece of the puzzle. This man lives in an apartment complex with a solemn young girl named Abby (Chloe Moretz). Abby sits quietly outside on the snow covered monkey bars in the courtyard of the complex. She wears no coat and is barefoot and pale skinned. She meets a troubled lone boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) whose mother drinks alot of wine and has angry phone conversations with Owen's estranged father. He is often left to his own devices, friendless and the victim of some extremely sadistic school bullies who refer to him as a "girl."

Abby and Owen of course become kindred spirits although she is reluctant and elusive, not sharing any real information about herself but still drawn to the fragile boy. These two lead lives in which the adults are either detached or dangerous.

If you've seen the original film or at least the trailers, you'll know that Abby is a vampire and becomes a profound but conflicting presence in the Owen's life. Can he accept her deadly nature?

Let Me In is very faithful, perhaps maybe too faithful, to Let The Right One In, although it's just as visually evocative and brutal and at times moving. The difference aside from the country it's set in, would be some small story structure changes and the era. The film takes plenty of opportunity to remind the audience it's 1983, by showing a Ronald Reagan address on television (in which he states evil does exist) a familiar 80s soundtrack and in a brief moment of humor, a cashier is seen dressed in Boy George attire complete with the hairdo. Drawing attention to the decade doesn't really seem necessary to the story even though some of the soundtrack choices are perfect ironic counterpoints to the brooding events on screen.

The actors all do a great job of convincingly conveying anguish, grief and anxiety. There is nothing over the top. Visually, there are some truly compelling moments, especially a car collision scene that is amazing directed and photographed.

The downside to this film and many exceptional remakes that stick close to the essence of the story and action is that there is a lack of surprises. While Let Me In is a worthy new version, if you've seen Let The Right One, you'll see the next scene coming and wonder if it will be recreated better or worse. A terrifying and ingenious climax set in an indoor pool at night was the high point of the first film and here it is well executed but it reminded me that the former film pulled it off much better because you never saw it coming.

The makers of Let Me In know perfectly well why and how the Swedish predecessor pushed the right buttons and created a horrific story that also contained genuine and touching sadness and tragedy. But even though you can reinterpret a story very well with the right creative people at hand, if the original version struck a chord, you can never top what was done first.

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