Monday, October 4, 2010


In 2008, a wonderful Swedish film was released in the United States called Let The Right One In. Yes, the review says I thought it was a Norwegian film but I'm pretty sure Swedes and Norwegians don't at all mind when you confuse one for the other so I think I'm good. Anyway, its marvelously original story about vampires stood out at a time when the world was in the grip of Twilight fever. I wasn't happy when I heard an American remake was in the works because I assumed it would try to become the next chapter of Twilight. I figured the 12 year old main characters would be replaced by sexy 23 year old actors playing sexy 16 year old kids who would always be taking showers or lying around in their underwear and that it would also be loaded with CGI vampire effects and action sequences.

Instead, writer/director Matt Reeves somehow convinced an American movie studio to finance what turned out to be a fairly faithful remake of a dark and insightful foreign film about children that most children wouldn't be allowed to see. There are a few restrained and intelligent uses of CGI and the one real action sequence is actually an improvement over the original's handling of the same scene. In other words, Let Me In is about as good as a remake can get and it was wonderful to see a filmmaker who was able to show us this story from his own point of view while also being respectful of the original source material.

The main characters of Let Me In are now named Owen and Abby. Kodi Smit-McPhee, who played Viggo Mortensen's son in The Road, plays 12 year old Owen, a boy whose weakness and shyness make him a target for some very sadistic bullies at his school. His parents aren't much help to him. His father seems to care but he's left home and is mostly out of the picture. His mother, whose face we never fully see, is usually too busy appreciating a good glass of wine to notice that Owen is miserable. It's 1983 which means he can't lose himself in the internet or an XBox so he has very little pleasure in his life.

Then you have Abby, a girl who is 12 but, as she says, she's been 12 for a very long time. Kodi Smit-McPhee is perfectly cast as Owen but I was skeptical when I heard Chloe Moretz was being cast as the vampire. The girl in Let The Right One In seemed to perfectly embody darkness and sadness but when I saw Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl in Kick Ass, I thought she was too bright and cheerful looking to play the vampire girl tormented by the conflict between her human conscience and her inherently evil nature. Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Chloe does something that film scholars like to call "acting" and manages the various emotions she is called upon to portray. They didn't even have to dye her blond hair black as I assumed they would.

When they meet, they each see a kindred spirit in the other. They are each outcasts though in very different ways. They're at an age when puberty is just starting to try to gain a foothold on their bodies (one will always be that age) so Owen is able to develop a crush on Abby and be perfectly satisfied with just holding her hand. This is true even when, after a particularly traumatic and bloody experience, she comes to him for comfort, removes her bloody clothes and gets into bed with him. In a year or two, Owen would try to turn around and touch more than her hand. Sadly, in a year or two, Abby will be too young for him to do anything like that. It makes their relationship both a wonder and a tragedy.

Abby hates killing but she can't stop. Blood isn't so much food as it is an addiction. When Owen cuts his finger and blood drips to the floor, she knows he's watching but she can't stop herself from getting on her knees to lick the blood up. Abby doesn't go through life alone though. A middle aged man (Richard Jenkins) travels with her and he apparently does most of the killing for her. The movie never says outright who he is. IMDB lists him as "The Father" but he's not her father. When I saw the Swedish version, I theorized that he was a pedophile who had only recently committed himself to Abby, an idea that, according to my research, is hinted at in the novel. In this movie, however, it's implied that he's been with her since he was Owen's age. He may have been a brother or some other relative but now he is her servant, kind of like Renfield was to Dracula. Whoever he is, his commitment to Abby is so complete that he makes two very gruesome and final sacrifices to protect her.

Let Me In is a violent film that deals with serious themes. It is not an anti-sex parable disguised as light entertainment. Vampires are not beautiful teenagers who sparkle in the sun and keep us pure until marriage upon which time we ascend to perfection with them. I heard someone in the audience ask if Abby was evil. The answer to that is both yes and no. Abby is decent and caring until the lust for blood gets to be too much to bear. Then she's a ruthless killer. Like Owen, we come to care about her and feel sorry for her. She cares about him too. That's why the movie ends the way it does and why that ending is both happy and sad.

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